On December 26, 2015, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves from a second pair of colliding black holes. The news comes on the heels of LIGO's first historic detection, which was made last fall and announced in February. Both detections confirm a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity.
“This new detection proves that the first discovery wasn't just luck,” says Stefan Ballmer, associate professor of physics at Syracuse University and a leading commissioner at the LIGO Hanford Observatory in Washington during the project's recent upgrade. “By 2018, we could be seeing hundreds of black hole mergers a year.”
Physicists in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences have been integral to LIGO’s success, since the first days of the project.
The University is home to one of the largest, most diverse research groups in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, an international team of scientists who observes gravitational waves. The Syracuse University Gravitational-Wave Group includes faculty, research scientists and graduate and undergraduate students.
Amber Lenon ’16, who earned a bachelor’s degree in May, was one of the undergraduates whose research confirmed that the signal from the black holes was, indeed, real. “The waves were not as loud as those from the first detection, so we needed supercomputers and careful analysis of LIGO data to find the signal in the noise,” says Lenon, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in physics at West Virginia University.
Syracuse’s Information Technology Services, the Albert Einstein Institute in Hannover, Germany, and the Open Science Grid provided the computing power that Lenon and her LIGO collaborators used.