It seems the onward march of physics this year only just started with the discovery of the Higgs particle at the Large Hadron Collider. Physicists at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization in Australia have recently discerned the power of the elusive gravitational wave, which is so miniscule it takes events of gigantic proportions to cause barely-noticeable ripples in space-time.
Astronomers Ryan Shannon and student Vikram Ravi have sifted through several decades-worth of compiled data on pulsars to find the tell-tale signal of background gravity waves in the cosmos. How does this work? It all hinges on just how incredibly precise these pulsars are; any gravitational waves passing through them cause a measurable shift from the expected and can be measured as a result.
“The strength of the gravitational wave background depends on how often supermassive black holes merge, how massive they are and how distant.” The CSIRO media snippet went on to note how this enables them to calculate supermassive black hole growth with greater accuracy than ever before. This so-called timing data doesn’t yet show us what gravitational waves look like, but enable us to infer their existence through the extent of black hole growth. It has the potential to replace the previous theory/hypothesis of merging galaxies as the primary method of supermassive black hole accumulation.
Ultimately, the scientists at CSIRO look forward to combining the power of telescopes from around the world to gather more pulsar data and refine their results. Hopefully, fine-tuning the instruments can eventually shed light on the nature of dark energy in the universe - the elusive force causing our universe to accelerate apart on the largest distance scales.