The University of Western Australia is part of an international team that includes the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the Virgo collaboration that have reported the first joint detection of gravitational waves with both the LIGO and Virgo detectors.
This is the fourth announced detection of a binary black hole system and the first significant gravitational-wave signal recorded by the Virgo detector, and highlights the scientific potential of a three-detector network of gravitational-wave detectors.
The three-detector observation was made on August 14, 2017 at 10:30:43 UTC. The two Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Virgo detector, located near Pisa, Italy, detected a transient gravitational-wave signal produced by the coalescence of two stellar mass black holes.
The detected gravitational waves—ripples in space and time—were emitted during the final moments of the merger of two black holes with masses about 31 and 25 times the mass of the sun and located about 1.8 billion light-years away. The newly produced spinning black hole has about 53 times the mass of our sun, which means that about 3 solar masses were converted into gravitational-wave energy during the coalescence.
Advanced LIGO is a second-generation gravitational-wave detector consisting of the two identical interferometers in Hanford and Livingston, and uses precision laser interferometry to detect gravitational waves. Beginning operating in September 2015, Advanced LIGO has conducted two observing runs. The second “O2” observing run began on November 30, 2016 and ended on August 25, 2017.
Advanced Virgo is the second-generation instrument built and operated by the Virgo collaboration to search for gravitational waves. With the end of observations with the initial Virgo detector in October 2011, the integration of the Advanced Virgo detector began. The new facility was dedicated in February 2017 while its commissioning was ongoing. In April 2017, the control of the detector at its nominal working point was achieved for the first time.
The Virgo detector joined the O2 run on August 1, 2017 at 10:00 UTC. The real-time detection on August 14 2017 was triggered with data from all three LIGO and Virgo instruments. Virgo is, at present, less sensitive than LIGO, but two independent search algorithms based on all the information available from the three detectors demonstrated the evidence of a signal in the Virgo data as well.
Overall, the volume of universe that is likely to contain the source shrinks by more than a factor of 20 when moving from a two-detector network to a three-detector network. The sky region for GW170814 has a size of only 60 square degrees, more than 10 times smaller than with data from the two LIGO interferometers alone; in addition, the accuracy with which the source distance is measured benefits from the addition of Virgo. “This increased precision will allow the entire astrophysical community to eventually make even more exciting discoveries, including multi-messenger observations,” says Georgia Tech professor Laura Cadonati, the deputy spokesperson of the LSC. “A smaller search area enables follow-up observations with telescopes and satellites for cosmic events that produce gravitational waves and emissions of light, such as the collision of neutron stars.”