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Unlocking the mysteries

Gravitational waves the focus of upcoming public lecture

Dr. Laura Cadonati, a professor from the Georgia Institute of Technology, will explain how gravitational waves can unlock the mysteries of the universe at an upcoming public lecture at Memorial University.

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time produced by catastrophic astrophysical events. They are the most elusive prediction of Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, so feeble that Einstein himself thought their detection would be impossible.

Dr. Laura Cadonati
Dr. Laura Cadonati
Photo: Submitted

One hundred years later, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) achieved the impossible and observed a pulse of gravitational waves that were produced by the collision of two black holes dozens of times more massive than our sun.

The otherwise-invisible collision released in instant gravitational waves with fifty times more power than all the light emitted in the visible universe. The waves arrived at Earth 1.3 billion years later on the morning of September 14, 2015.

LIGO consists of two 4-km interferometers, which use lasers and suspended mirrors to measure the tiny changes in the metric of space-time induced by the passage of gravitational waves. A similar detector, called Virgo, operates in Italy.

On August 17, 2017 a new kind of gravitational wave signal reached both LIGO and Virgo from the collision of two neutron stars in the Hydra constellation more than 100 million years ago.

“As the two neutron stars spiraled together, they emitted gravitational waves similar to those from the black holes we had seen; but unlike the black holes, when they collided, they emitted a tremendous fireball of light, called a gamma ray burst, and then in the days and weeks following an afterglow of radiation, known as a kilonova, continued to shine,” said Dr. Cadonati.

Thousands of astronomers worked together to simultaneously observe this event, and a wealth of new information was learned by combining these gravitational waves and electromagnetic waves at different wavelengths.

“These groundbreaking discoveries have marked the opening of a new window on the universe and a new era of gravitational wave astrophysics, where gravitational waves provide new insights into black holes and neutron stars and may even reveal new objects,” she said. “The future is gravitational-wave bright!”

Dr. Cadonati is a professor with the School of Physics and the Center for Relativistic Astrophysics at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her research interests include gravitational waves and particle astrophysics, with focus on the detection, characterization and astrophysical interpretation of short-duration gravitational wave signals that are produced by cataclysmic astrophysical events such as the collisions of black holes or core collapse supernovae.

A member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) since 2002, Dr. Cadonati is also a past member of the Borexino solar neutrino experiment at Gran Sasso. She is deputy spokesperson for the LSC, past chair of the LIGO Data Analysis Council and has experience in creating and leading a National Science Foundation-supported LIGO group as a single investigator.

Dr. Cadonati is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, has chaired the Division of Gravity of the American Physical Society and was awarded an NSF Career Award. She received her undergraduate degree in Italy, with a Laurea in Physics at the University of Milano, and a PhD in Physics from Princeton University.

Reddy Lecture

She will present the 2018 Dr. and Mrs. Satti Paddi and Parvati Reddy Public Lecture, titled Seeing with New Eyes: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Universe with Gravitational Waves, on Nov. 9 at 7 p.m. in the Bruneau Centre for Research and Innovation, room IIC-2001. A reception will follow and limited free parking is available in lot 17. All are welcome.

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