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30th of June 2023
The fingerprints of gravitational waves
Astronomers using data collected by the Parkes radio telescope, Murriyang, have found their strongest evidence yet for low-frequency gravitational waves. For nearly 20 years the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array collaboration has monitored a set of radio pulsars -- rapidly spinning neutron stars. In 1916 Albert Einstein proposed space-time as a four-dimensional fabric, and that events such as exploding stars and merging black holes create ripples – or gravitational waves – in this fabric. Almost a century later, in 2015, researchers from the LIGO and Virgo collaborations made the first direct observation of gravitational waves caused by the collision of two stellar-mass black holes. In contrast to these gravitational waves, which oscillate multiple times per second, the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array collaboration is searching for gravitational waves emitted by binary supermassive black holes at the centres of galaxies, which have masses of millions or billions of solar-masses. These gravitational waves oscillate over timescales of many years. In a coordinated release of papers, other collaborations in China (CPTA), Europe (EPTA), India (InPTA) and North America (NANOGrav) also report seeing a similar signal in their data. Through the International Pulsar Timing Array consortium, the individual groups around the globe – including the Parkes Pulsar Timing Array collaboration in Australia – are working together to combine their data to better characterise the signal and confirm its origin. More detail is given in this article in The Conversation. (Image and text credit: OzGrav)

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