DIY gravitational waves with 'BlackHoles@Home'

DIY gravitational waves with 'BlackHoles@Home'
The BlackHoles@Home project uses highly efficient simulation grids so that binary black hole collisions can be modeled on desktop computers. The black dots represent the black hole horizons for two black holes of different masses. Credit: Z.Etienne/WVU

Researchers hoping to better interpret data from the detection of gravitational waves generated by the collision of binary black holes are turning to the public for help.

West Virginia University assistant professor Zachariah Etienne is leading what will soon become a global volunteer computing effort. The public will be invited to lend their own computers to help the unlock the secrets contained in observed when smash together.

LIGO's first detection of gravitational waves from colliding black holes in 2015 opened a new window on the universe, enabling scientists to observe cosmic events spanning billions of years and to better understand the makeup of the Universe. For many scientists, the discovery also fueled expansion of efforts to more thoroughly test the theories that help explain how the universe works—with a particular focus on inferring as much information as possible about the black holes prior to their .

First predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916, gravitational waves are ripples or disturbances in space-time that encode important information about changing gravitational fields.

Since the 2015 discovery, LIGO and Virgo have detected gravitational waves from eight additional black hole collisions. This month, LIGO and Virgo began new observing runs at unprecedented sensitivities.

"As our become more sensitive, we're going to need to greatly expand our efforts to understand all of the information encoded in gravitational waves from colliding binary black holes," Etienne said. "We are turning to the to help with these efforts, which involve generating unprecedented numbers of self-consistent simulations of these extremely energetic collisions. This will truly be an inclusive effort, and we especially hope to inspire the next generation of scientists in this growing field of gravitational wave astrophysics."

His team—and the scientific community in general—needs computing capacity to run the simulations required to cover all possibilities related to the properties and other information contained in gravitational waves.

"Each desktop computer will be able to perform a single simulation of colliding black holes," said Etienne. By seeking public involvement through use of vast numbers of personal desktop computers, Etienne and others hope to dramatically increase the throughput of the theoretical gravitational wave predictions needed to extract information from observations of the collisions.

Black holes are known to contain two physical quantities: spin and mass. Spin, for example, can then be broken down further into direction and speed. Etienne's colleagues, therefore, are examining a total of eight parameters when LIGO or Virgo detect waves from a collision of two black holes.

"The simulations we need to perform, with the public's help, are designed to fill large gaps in our knowledge about gravitational waves from these collisions by covering as many possibilities as we can for these eight parameters. Current black hole simulation catalogs are far too small to properly cover this wide space of possibilities," Etienne said.

"This work aims to provide a critical service to the scientific community: an unprecedented large catalog of self-consistent theoretical predictions for what gravitational waves may be observed from black hole collisions. These predictions assume that Einstein's theory of gravity, , is correct, and therefore will provide deeper insights into this beautiful and complex theory. Just to give you an idea of its importance—if the effects of Einstein's relativity theory weren't accounted for, GPS systems would be off by kilometers per day, just to name one example."

Etienne and his team are building a website with downloadable software based on the same Berkeley Open Infrastructure for Network Computing, or BOINC, system used for the SETI@Home project and other scientific applications. The free middleware system is designed to help harness the processing power of thousands of personal computers across the globe. The West Virginia team has named their project BlackHoles@Home and expects to have it up and running later this year.

They have already established a website where the public can begin learning more about the effort:

Explore further

Scientists detect biggest known black-hole collision

More information: The presentation, "The BlackHoles@Home Project: Black Hole Binaries on the Desktop Computer," took place on Saturday, April 13, in room Governor's Square 17 of the Sheraton Denver Downtown Hotel. Abstract:
Citation: DIY gravitational waves with 'BlackHoles@Home' (2019, April 14) retrieved 21 August 2019 from
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Apr 14, 2019
Sounds like a nice challenge for private desktop owners.
As our Solar System happens to reside in one of the arms of our Milky Way galaxy, I suppose that there is no chance whatsoever that we will get too close to SgrA* at the centre to cause any worry.
And astronomers are looking for colliding binary Black Holes in other galaxies to study and search for gravitational waves, but I haven't read any mention of any possible binary BH in the centre of the Milky Way. I now regard Black Holes as 'recycling compacters'. :)

Apr 14, 2019
Does this increase the risk of infection of computers?

Apr 14, 2019
While a real BH would not be expected to have an intrinsic magnetic field ('no hair' theorem), external to the event horizon shouldn't it necessarily be reflected in any computed representation (particularly with respect to the dynamics of a BH pair.) ? Cf:
"Event Horizon Telescope Reveals Magnetic Fields at Milky Way's Central Black Hole" . 3 December 2015.

"Resolved magnetic-field structure and variability near the event horizon of Sagittarius A*"
Michael D. Johnson1, et al. , Science 04 Dec 2015: Vol. 350, Issue 6265, pp. 1242-1245

Apr 14, 2019
I now regard Black Holes as 'recycling compacters'. :)
Yes, they mop up a messy universe of untidy mass, in preparation for a neat and clean new big-bang (eg. Penrose, conformal cyclic cosmology)

Apr 14, 2019
While the rate of mergers isn't pinned down yet, preliminary estimates of the upgraded LIGO/Virgo collaboration (twice the viweing volume) claims one black hole binary merger every few days and one neutron binary merger every month or so; dunno about mixed mergers. I read somewhere they have two candidate events after two weeks.

So it is an urgent area!

@danR: Recycling of black hole energies works even in the case of fringe cosmologies, Hawking radiation implies these objects will eventually evaporate.

Apr 14, 2019
Recycling of black hole energies works even in the case of fringe cosmologies, Hawking radiation implies these objects will eventually evaporate.
I understand that; it's only that the final stage of heat-death, say a googolplex years from now, will mean the evaporation of all mass into energy. Not only CCC, but  e s p e c i a l l y CCC... depends on this final evaporation.

Finally, CCC is not only a cosmology, but a cosmogeny, and I regard all cosmogenies as fringey. Penrose' idea is one of the few that borders a gray twilight-zone of falsifiability.

Apr 15, 2019
Does this increase the risk of infection of computers?

It shouldn't - unless the software itself is compromised, which I find unlikely. But if it's based on SETI@home then the software just moves inert data chunks to and fro.

While a real BH would not be expected to have an intrinsic magnetic field ('no hair' theorem), external to the event horizon shouldn't it necessarily be reflected in any computed representation

It is. The accretion disk can generate a (huge) magnetic field. It's probably the reason for the jets (well, that or a speed boost via the Ergosphere). The first analysis of the M87 BH data will focus on the polarization of the light (which will allow the scientists to get an idea of the magnetic field present in its environment)

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