Prof Develops Computer Simulations to Help Detect Black Holes

August 23, 2010 - News Release

It's like trying to see an intergalactic fireworks show billions of years later. But new computer simulations by scientists including a University of Guelph physicist will help improve researchers' chances of detecting distant collisions of giant black holes to garner clues about the universe’s fate and to test Einstein’s ideas about gravity and relativity.

Super-massive black holes colliding as galaxies merge should produce gravitational waves and jets of energy that can be “seen” by new detectors within a decade, says U of G physics professor Luis Lehner.

In a paper published this week in Science, Lehner and researchers at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Astrophysics in Toronto and at Long Island University describe their refinements to computer models that explain how systems of binary black holes work.

He says their work will help researchers building sophisticated detectors to catch evidence of black holes crunching together even as far back as six billion years ago, or slightly less than half the age of the universe.

Those instruments will “look” for evidence of gravitational waves, or space-time ripples. Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves almost a century ago.

“Gravitational waves have been predicted to exist for a long time but never been detected directly. That’s going to change soon,” says Lehner.

Scientists also hope to use X-ray telescopes to catch electromagnetic radiation from high-energy jets that the model predicts are produced by spinning pairs of black holes millions of times more massive than the sun. Scientists have so far been unable to detect clear electromagnetic signals from these systems.

“By localizing its source, we’ll know which galaxy or system is producing it,” says Lehner. Besides pinpointing the source, he says, “we’ll be able to test models aiming to explain tremendously energetic events as well as our understanding of cosmology, super-massive black hole formation and Einstein’s theory of relativity.”

Lehner arrived at Guelph in 2009; he is an affiliate member of the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo.

Prof. Luis Lehner
Department of Physics
519-824-4120 x53653

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