NANOGrav To Build Physics Frontier Center To Detect Low-Frequency Gravitational Waves

NANOGrav

The North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) will receive $14.5 million in funding over 5 years to create and operate a Physics Frontiers Center (PFC) to detect low-frequency gravitational waves.

The funding, awarded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), will be used to operate a Physics Frontiers Center, which will detect and study low-frequency gravitational waves.

Gravitational waves are elusive ripples in the fabric of space-time, which arise from extremely energetic and large-scale cosmic events, such as orbiting pairs of massive black holes found at the centers of merging galaxies.

In Einstein’s theory of gravity, these events produce waves that distort, or ripple, the actual fabric of the cosmos as they emanate throughout space. The waves have such a long wavelength—significantly larger than our Solar System—that scientists are not able to build a detector large enough to observe them.

But, we are fortunate that the Universe itself has its own detection tool, namely millisecond pulsars. These are the rapidly spinning, super dense remains of massive stars that have exploded as supernovas. These ultra-stable stars are nature’s most precise celestial clocks, appearing to “tick” every time their beamed emissions sweep past the Earth like a lighthouse beacon, according to a statement by NANOGrav.

Gravitational waves may be detected in small but perceptible fluctuations—a few tens of nanoseconds over five or more years—they cause, in measured arrival times at Earth, radio pulses from these millisecond pulsars, according to NANOGrav.

Xavier Siemens, a physicist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, was named as director of the Physics Frontiers Center. Maura McLaughlin, an astronomer at West Virginia University, will serve as co-director of the center.

“NANOGrav is now poised to detect low-frequency gravitational waves,” Siemens said.

“This Center will ensure that researchers have the resources necessary to explore one of the most exciting frontiers in all of physics and astronomy.”

Founded in 2007, NANOGrav has 55 scientists and students at 15 institutions. The Physics Frontiers Center will provide funding for 23 senior personnel, 6 postdoctoral researchers, 10 graduate students, and 25 undergraduate students distributed across 11 institutions.

Currently, the National Science Foundation supports nine other PFCs, which range in research areas from theoretical biological physics and the physics of living cells, to quantum information and nuclear astrophysics.

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Kristin covers health, science and internet news.