Pulsar survey could help find gravitational waves

Aug 24, 2010 By Lauren Gold

With a recently announced $6.5 million grant over five years from the National Science Foundation (NSF), an international consortium of researchers and institutions hopes to find and use the galaxy's most precise pulsars as tools for detecting gravitational waves.

The project, funded under the Partnership for International Research and Education (PIRE) program, will use telescopes around the world, including the Cornell-managed Arecibo Observatory, to survey and monitor the sky for millisecond pulsars. (Pulsars are rapidly spinning that emit lighthouse-like beams of .)

By monitoring the pulsars over five or more years, the researchers hope to find evidence of gravitational waves through tiny perturbations in the spacing of the pulsars' beams.

Gravitational waves are a key prediction of Einstein's , but they have never been directly detected. Among other sources, they are thought to be caused when black holes within merging galaxies spiral in toward each other and collide.

"We're essentially certain that they're out there," said James Cordes, professor of astronomy and a senior collaborator in the PIRE project. But because the waves are extremely long (possibly with periods of five years or more) and have amplitudes less than 100 nanoseconds, finding evidence of their existence requires highly precise detectors -- and patience.

"The goal right now is to simply detect the presence of gravitational waves, which would be a first, and then make more detailed measurements -- to understand the astrophysics of merging black holes; and also to detect more exotic sources of gravitational waves, such as from cosmic strings," Cordes said.

The project brings together the resources of the North American NanoHertz for Gravitational waves (NANOGrav) and collaborations in Australia, Europe and India. The study of is also a key project for the planned Square Kilometer Array, for which Cordes is principal investigator for the U.S. Technology Development Program.

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lomed
not rated yet Aug 27, 2010
It would be nice if it were a bit more clear that "the waves are extremely long" and "amplitudes less than 100 nanoseconds" referred to the differences from average of pulsar rotation periods. Especially since, in most other situations, the amplitude of a wave does not have units of time. Perhaps something like: gravitational waves would produce variations in the rotation periods of pulsars of no more than 100 nanoseconds over the course of 5 years.
hodzaa
1 / 5 (2) Aug 27, 2010
These $6.5 millions are actually wasted, because gravitational waves are CMB noise in analogy of the sound waves spreading at the water surface - you will never detect harmonic waves here, because they're spreading a much faster, then the surface waves.