Let's grow a baby universe in a supercomputer, watch black holes collide

Good idea, LIGO. Definitely better than throwing cans at cars from the overpass

Photo credit: The EAGLE project/Stuart McAlpine

Physicists have created simulations that predict the rate at which gravitational waves from the collision of monstrous supermassive black holes may be detected.

The results are due to be announced later today at the Royal Astronomical Society's National Astronomy Meeting.

In a monumental discovery, gravitational waves were detected at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, earlier this year. Both signals came from two massive black holes smashing into each other - a violent event that releases huge amounts of energy.

The new research led by physicists at Durham University also searches for gravitational waves - just like LIGO. But instead of focusing on signals coming from outer space, physicists are searching for them through their numerous lines of code.

Using the UK’s National Cosmology Supercomputer, COSMOS, the researchers have run simulations from the EAGLE project, to create model universes using Einstein’s equations.

“A baby universe - one with no stars, galaxies, or black holes - was grown until it represented the universe we see in present day,” Professor Robert Bower, co-author of the study told The Register.

The gravitational interactions between black holes in the simulation lead to collisions and gravitational waves rippling through the fabric of spacetime. Using their simulations, physicists can look at the source producing gravitational waves differently from researchers at LIGO.

Instead of piecing together information about the collision event through gravitational waves, the simulations allow the physicists to work backwards. They can observe the black holes colliding and predict what the gravitational wave produces should look like.

The simulations will allow the researchers at LIGO to check if the detections match the predictions. “We hope to work closely with the researchers at LIGO in the future,” said Bower. “[Gravitational waves] have opened up new possibilities to study the universe.”

The researchers have used their simulations to probe gravitational waves from monstrous supermassive black holes - millions of times more massive than the Sun.

Researchers want to see how the first black hole seeds were sown by tracking the gravitational wave signals they release. They are predicted to have formed in the early universe from massive dense clouds that collapsed straight into black holes without forming any stars and galaxies beforehand.

It is hoped that the Evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, or Elisa - a floating gravitational observatory in space due to be launched in 2034 - will allow researchers to compare their simulations against reality.

The preliminary paper can be found here. ®

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