Gravitational Waves and Binary Black Holes, an Inside Story


The recent announcement of the
The team from Rochester Institute of Technology

Based on this milestone work from a decade ago, RIT researchers at the center, Carlos Lousto and James Healy, aided by significant visualization work by Hans-Peter Bischof, numerically modeled the merger of a pair of black holes and produced simulated gravitational waveforms. The actual wave patterns detected by the LIGO facility on Sept. 14, 2015, closely match the simulations created by Lousto and Healy. The detected signals, and the predicted gravitational waveforms produced by the RIT group are contained in the Physical Review paper announcing the LIGO detection.

The LIGO signals, therefore, confirmed the theoretical and simulated predictions of gravitational waves emitted from the merger of a binary black hole system performed by the RIT group over the past decade. In fact, absent these predicted waveforms, the origin of the signals detected by the LIGO team would likely remain a mystery.

In addition to these important theoretical and numerical contributions, six RIT researchers were part of the LIGO detection/data analysis team and are co-authors on the Physical Review Letters paper, including John Whelan, Richard O’Shaughnessy, Carlos Lousto, James Healy, Jake Lange, and Yuanhao Zhang.

So, as in the case of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, theory and simulation preceded experimental confirmation, not the other way around. This is not intended to diminish the LIGO detection achievement in any way. The LIGO detection instrumentation represents the most sensitive set of detectors ever constructed, and I am in awe of the innovations that resulted in this amazing capability. Let’s celebrate the theory, simulation, and experiment as one monumental achievement. That, I believe, is what scientific historians will conclude decades from now.

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