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.

Explore further: Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Galaxy-Sized Observatory for Gravitational Waves

Sep 17, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Astronomers are making plans to create a galaxy-sized observatory to look for gravitational waves. The project is part of a joint effort with astronomers from Australia and Europe, who also ...

Astronomers get new tools for gravitational-wave detection

Jan 05, 2010

Teamwork between gamma-ray and radio astronomers has produced a breakthrough in finding natural cosmic tools needed to make the first direct detections of the long-elusive gravitational waves predicted by Albert Einstein ...

Scientists aim to unlock gravitational wave mysteries

Oct 19, 2006

Scientists at The Australian National University today joined a consortium of universities launching plans for a new observatory to detect a space phenomenon that has challenged physicists since it was first proposed by Einstein ...

Catching the Gravitational Wave

Jul 17, 2007

For nearly a century, scientists searched to uncover the tremors Einstein believed were produced by waves in the fabric of space and time.

Recommended for you

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

10 hours ago

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

Pushy neighbors force stellar twins to diverge

17 hours ago

(Phys.org) —Much like an environment influences people, so too do cosmic communities affect even giant dazzling stars: Peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy's center from a high-flying observatory, Cornell ...

Image: Multiple protostars within IRAS 20324+4057

Apr 14, 2014

(Phys.org) —A bright blue tadpole appears to swim through the inky blackness of space. Known as IRAS 20324+4057 but dubbed "the Tadpole", this clump of gas and dust has given birth to a bright protostar, ...

Research group to study interstellar molecules

Apr 11, 2014

From April 2014, a new group will study interstellar molecules and use them to explore the entire star and planet formation process at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics. Newly appointed ...

Astronomers suggest more accurate star formation rates

Apr 10, 2014

(Phys.org) —Astronomers have found a new way of predicting the rate at which a molecular cloud—a stellar nursery—will form new stars. Using a novel technique to reconstruct a cloud's 3-D structure, ...

User comments : 2

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

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.

More news stories

Astronomers: 'Tilt-a-worlds' could harbor life

A fluctuating tilt in a planet's orbit does not preclude the possibility of life, according to new research by astronomers at the University of Washington, Utah's Weber State University and NASA. In fact, ...

NASA Cassini images may reveal birth of a Saturn moon

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft has documented the formation of a small icy object within the rings of Saturn that may be a new moon, and may also provide clues to the formation of the planet's known ...

Pushy neighbors force stellar twins to diverge

(Phys.org) —Much like an environment influences people, so too do cosmic communities affect even giant dazzling stars: Peering deep into the Milky Way galaxy's center from a high-flying observatory, Cornell ...

Low Vitamin D may not be a culprit in menopause symptoms

A new study from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) shows no significant connection between vitamin D levels and menopause symptoms. The study was published online today in Menopause, the journal of The North American Menopa ...