Throughout the universe, tucked inside galaxies far away, giant black holes are pairing up and merging. As the massive bodies dance around each other in close embraces, they send out gravitational waves that ripple space and time themselves, even as the waves pass right through the planet Earth, NASA said in a press release.
Scientists know these waves, predicted by Albert Einstein’s theory of relativity, exist, but have yet to directly detect one. In the race to catch the waves, one strategy — called pulsar-timing arrays — has reached a milestone not through detecting any gravitational waves, but in revealing new information about the frequency and strength of black hole mergers.
Merging black holes ripple space and time in the artist’s conception above.
“We expect that many gravitational waves are passing through us all the time, and now we have a better idea of the extent of this background activity,” said Sarah Burke-Spolaor of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, co-author of a new Science paper.
Gravitational waves, if detected, would reveal more information about black holes as well as one of the four fundamental forces of nature: gravity.
The recent results came from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization’s Parkes radio telescope in eastern Australia. The study was jointly led by Ryan Shannon of CSIRO and Vikram Ravi of the University of Melbourne and CSIRO.
For more on the hunt for gravitational waves, see the NASA press release.