april 2018

Black hole blues, and other songs from outer space

Hosted by Professor Alan Weinstein

By Janna Levin

Professor Alan Weinstein

My research focus in recent years has been in the search for gravitational waves (GWs) using the Advanced LIGO detectors, within the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

GWs are produced by the most extreme environments and events in the universe, where gravitational fields are strongest and most repidly changing: black holes and the earliest moments of the Big Bang. GWs from neutron stars probe all the fundamental forces of nature, at energies and densities unobtainable in the laboratory.

I lead the gravitational wave astrophysical data analysis group at LIGO Laboratory, Caltech. Our group works in all aspects of the subject:

  • characterizing the performance and improving the quality of the data from the Advanced LIGO detectors;

  • studying the fundamental properties of GWs from astrophysical sources, and searching for properties beyond those predicted by General Relativity;

  • searching for GW signals from the inspiral and merger of compact binary systems (neutron stars and/or black holes) in distant galaxies;

  • studying the properties and populations of these systems using Bayesian inference;

  • rapidly searching for electromagnetic (optical, x-ray, gamma ray, radio) counterparts to events detected in GWs to better understand the sources ("multi-messenger astronomy");

  • searching for GW burst signals from core-collapse supernovas in our galaxy and the Local Group, and studying the properties of those events;

  • searching for GW signals from spinning neutron stars in our galactic neighborhood, and using them to test General Relativity;

  • searching for GW signals from the Big Bang and from many weakly emitting astrophysical sources.

The authoritative story of Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne’s Nobel Prize–winning discovery of gravitational waves—by an eminent theoretical astrophysicist and award-winning writer.

With A New Preface

In 1916, Einstein predicted the presence of gravitational waves. One century later, we are recording the first sounds from space, evidence of the waves’ existence caused by the collision of two black holes. An authoritative account of the headline-making discovery by theoretical astrophysicist and award-winning writer Janna Levin, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space recounts the fascinating story of the obsessions, aspirations, and trials of the scientists who embarked on an arduous fifty-year endeavor to capture these elusive waves

Five decades after the experiment was dreamed up, the team races to intercept a wisp of sound with two colossal machines, hoping to succeed in time for the centenary of Einstein’s most radical idea. With unprecedented access to the surprises, disappointments, achievements, and risks in this remarkable story, Janna Levin’s absorbing account offers a portrait of modern science that is unlike anything we’ve seen before.

~Penguin Random House