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Scientists hunting for gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space and time sent out by cataclysmic collisions — have had a busy month.

The impact: The LIGO and Virgo observatories tasked with detecting these waves began their newest observing run on April 1, and they've already found evidence of 5 possible gravitational wave signals. The observatories are 40% more sensitive following upgrades made since the last observing run ended.

The big question: By detecting these gravitational waves on Earth, scientists can work backward to find out more about what created those ripples, giving us new insights into some of the most extreme objects in the universe.

“The entire astrophysics community is very excited that we’ve already seen 5 candidate events in four weeks.”
LIGO astrophysicist Jess McIver said during a press conference Thursday

Details: Three of the gravitational wave signals are thought to be from two merging black holes, with the fourth believed to have been emitted by colliding neutron stars. The fifth, and perhaps most exciting, seems to be from the merger of a black hole and a neutron star.

  • If confirmed, this will mark the first neutron star-black hole merger ever documented.

All five signals still need to be confirmed through follow-up analysis.

How it works: LIGO and Virgo are able to detect these gravitational waves through very precise instrumentation. When a gravitational wave passes through Earth’s part of space, every atom warps ever so slightly.

  • A laser runs down the arms of LIGO and Virgo’s three L-shaped detectors. Once the laser hits the end of the detector, a mirror bounces the light back to the middle.
  • If no gravitational wave has passed through, the beams of light should arrive back at the bend in the L at the same time, but if there’s a mismatch, a gravitational wave may have been observed.

What’s next: Unlike earlier observing campaigns, the two observatories have started releasing their detections in real time, allowing other observatories to make follow-up observations.

Go deeper

Hundreds of corporations sign statement opposing restrictive voting bills

Former American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault. Photo: Earl Gibson III/WireImage)

Hundreds of companies and executives released a letter on Wednesday condemning legislation that restricts "any eligible voter from having an equal and fair opportunity to cast a ballot," per the New York Times.

Why it matters: It's the most concerted action yet by big business in opposition to GOP-sponsored bills at the state level that limit mail-in ballots, implement new voter ID requirements and slash registration options, among other measures.

38 mins ago - Axios Twin Cities

Brooklyn Center mayor in the spotlight after Daunte Wright shooting

Mike Elliott has moved swiftly after the death of Daunte Wright. Photo: Kerem Yucel/AFP via Getty Images)

The killing of Daunte Wright by a Brooklyn Center, Minn., police officer has thrust Mayor Mike Elliott into the national spotlight.

The big picture: Elliott, with the backing of the city council, has acted quickly and boldly in the wake of the shooting. He fired longtime city manager Curt Boganey, took control of the police department and called for the firing of officer Kim Potter, who resigned on Tuesday.

Exclusive: White House meeting with members of Problem Solvers Caucus

Members of the Problem Solvers Caucus discuss the COVID-19 relief bill in December. Photo: Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Top White House officials will meet Wednesday with a bipartisan coalition of House lawmakers as the administration tries to enlist moderates to support the president's infrastructure proposal.

Why it matters: The meeting is something of an olive branch after President Biden's team courted groups of progressives to back the $2.2 trillion package.