May 7, 2019

Gravitational waves in real time

Miriam Kramer, author of Space

Artist's illustration of two black holes. Photo: LIGO/Caltech/MIT/Sonoma State

Ever since scientists first detected gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of space and time created during the cataclysmic mergers of black holes and neutron stars — in 2015, discoveries have come in a slow trickle, released every few months.

Driving the news: Now we can expect those findings to come more like a firehose, and you can follow along in real time.

The big picture: Under previous guidelines, the researchers behind the LIGO and Virgo detectors would have waited to release discoveries until after thorough vetting and even peer review. But now, Virgo and LIGO are releasing possible detections as they occur.

  • Real-time release allows scientists to quickly work to make follow-up observations of any possible gravitational wave sources.
  • Members of the public can also follow along with the gravitational wave signals through the Gravitational Wave Events app and a database.
  • The app will use a gravitational wave "chirp" — the noise a gravitational wave would make if converted into sound waves — to alert users to new detections.

Details: The LIGO and Virgo detectors are now 40% more sensitive thanks to upgrades made following the last observing run.

  • Since coming back online in April, the collaboration has discovered 5 possible detections of gravitational waves.
  • If these detections are confirmed, it would suggest these kinds of cosmic crashes are even more common than originally thought.
  • One of those 5 possible detections appears to have been made by the collision of a black hole and a neutron star, which would be the first time such an event has been recorded.
  • The signal from that merger was relatively faint, but the detection bodes well for LIGO and Virgo's future sensitivity.
  • Scientists hope that the instruments will be able to pick up the signals from exploding supernovas as well.

How it works: LIGO and Virgo are designed to pick up the most minute signals from gravitational waves that warp space-time as they pass through the universe.

  • LIGO’s two L-shaped detectors each have a laser running down the arms. Mirrors at the ends of the arms bounce the light of the laser back to the middle.
  • If both make it back at the same time, no gravitational wave has passed, but if they don’t line up, there may have been a signal.

Go deeper

Updated 32 mins ago - Health

World coronavirus updates

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Map: Axios Visuals

New Zealand has a single novel coronavirus case after reporting a week of no new infections, the Ministry of Health confirmed on Friday local time.

By the numbers: Nearly 6 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 and over 2.3 million have recovered from the virus. Over 357,000 people have died globally. The U.S. has reported the most cases in the world with over 1.6 million.

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 5,803,416 — Total deaths: 359,791 — Total recoveries — 2,413,576Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 8:30 p.m. ET: 1,720,613 — Total deaths: 101,573 — Total recoveries: 399,991 — Total tested: 15,646,041Map.
  3. Public health: The mystery of coronavirus superspreaders.
  4. Congress: Pelosi slams McConnell on stimulus delay — Sen. Tim Kaine and wife test positive for coronavirus antibodies.
  5. World: Twitter slapped a fact-check label on a pair of months-old tweets from a Chinese government spokesperson that falsely suggested that the coronavirus originated in the U.S.
  6. 2020: The RNC has issued their proposed safety guidelines for its planned convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
  7. Axios on HBO: Science fiction writers tell us how they see the coronavirus pandemic.
  8. 🏃‍♀️Sports: Boston Marathon canceled after initial postponement, asks runners to go virtual.
  9. What should I do? When you can be around others after contracting the coronavirus — Traveling, asthma, dishes, disinfectants and being contagiousMasks, lending books and self-isolatingExercise, laundry, what counts as soap — Pets, moving and personal healthAnswers about the virus from Axios expertsWhat to know about social distancingHow to minimize your risk.
  10. Other resources: CDC on how to avoid the virus, what to do if you get it, the right mask to wear.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

2 hours ago - World

The eye of the COVID-19 storm shifts to Latin America

Data: The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

The epicenter of the COVID-19 pandemic has moved from China to Europe to the United States and now to Latin America.

Why it matters: Up until now, the pandemic has struck hardest in relatively affluent countries. But it's now spreading fastest in countries where it will be even harder to track, treat and contain.