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Seeds of first supermassive black holes could be revealed by gravitational waves detected in space

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 June 2016 13:30
Published on Monday, 27 June 2016 00:01

WallpaperGravitational waves captured by space-based detectors could help identify the origins of supermassive black holes, according to new computer simulations of the Universe. Scientists led by Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology ran the huge cosmological simulations that can be used to predict the rate at which gravitational waves caused by collisions between the monster black holes might be detected. The amplitude and frequency of these waves could reveal the initial mass of the seeds from which the first black holes grew since they were formed 13 billion years ago and provide further clues about what caused them and where they formed, the researchers said. The research will be presented on Monday, 27th June at the National Astronomy Meeting 2016 in Nottingham. It was funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council, the European Research Council and the Belgian Interuniversity Attraction Poles Programme.

The study combined simulations from the EAGLE project – which aims to create a realistic simulation of the known Universe inside a computer – with a model to calculate gravitational wave signals. Two detections of gravitational waves caused by collisions between supermassive black holes should be possible each year using space-based instruments such as the Evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (eLISA) detector that is due to launch in 2034, the researchers said.

In February the international LIGO and Virgo collaborations announced that they had detected gravitational waves for the first time using ground-based instruments and in June reported a second detection. As eLISA will be in space – and will be at least 250,000 times larger than detectors on Earth – it should be able to detect the much lower frequency gravitational waves caused by collisions between supermassive black holes that are up to a million times the mass of our sun.

Current theories suggest that the seeds of these black holes were the result of either the growth and collapse of the first generation of stars in the Universe; collisions between stars in dense stellar clusters; or the direct collapse of extremely massive stars in the early Universe. As each of these theories predicts different initial masses for the seeds of supermassive black hole seeds, the collisions would produce different gravitational wave signals. This means that the potential detections by eLISA could help pinpoint the mechanism that helped create supermassive black holes and when in the history of the Universe they formed.

Lead author Jaime Salcido, PhD student in Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, said, “Understanding more about gravitational waves means that we can study the Universe in an entirely different way. These waves are caused by massive collisions between objects with a mass far greater than our sun. By combining the detection of gravitational waves with simulations we could ultimately work out when and how the first seeds of supermassive black holes formed.”

Co- author Professor Richard Bower, of Durham University’s Institute for Computational Cosmology, added, “Black holes are fundamental to galaxy formation and are thought to sit at the centre of most galaxies, including our very own Milky Way. Discovering how they came to be where they are is one of the unsolved problems of cosmology and astronomy. Our research has shown how space based detectors will provide new insights into the nature of supermassive black holes.”

Gravitational waves were first predicted 100 years ago by Albert Einstein as part of his Theory of General Relativity. The waves are concentric ripples caused by violent events in the Universe that squeeze and stretch the fabric of space time but most are so weak they cannot be detected. LIGO detected gravitational waves using ground-based instruments, called interferometers, that use laser beams to pick up subtle disturbances caused by the waves. eLISA will work in a similar way, detecting the small changes in distances between three satellites that will orbit the sun in a triangular pattern connected by beams from lasers in each satellite.

In June it was reported that the LISA Pathfinder, the forerunner to eLISA, had successfully demonstrated the technology that opens the door to the development of a large space observatory capable of detecting gravitational waves in space.

 

 

Science Contacts

Mr Jaime Salcido
Mob: +44 (0)7939 398 125;
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Jaime Salcido will be at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting at the University of Nottingham on Monday, June 27, and Tuesday, June 28, 2016.

Prof Richard Bower
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Media Contacts

Dr Robert Massey
Deputy Executive Director
Royal Astronomical Society
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Mob: +44 (0)7802 877 699
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Ms Anita Heward
Royal Astronomical Society
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Mr Leighton Kitson
Communications Officer (Research)
Durham University
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NAM 2016 press office (from Monday 27 June to Friday 1 July)
Tel: +44 (0)115 846 6993

An ISDN line and a Globelynx fixed camera are available for radio and TV interviews. To request these, please contact Robert or Anita.

 

Images/video

Images available via this link: https://drive.google.com/folderview?id=0B5piV6epapfzcjJoS244YWpEWjQ&usp=sharing

Or via Durham University Marketing and Communications Office on +44 (0)191 334 6075; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Wallpaper: Gas and stars in a slice of the EAGLE simulations at the present day. The intensity shows the gas density, while the colour encodes the gas temperature. Researchers used the EAGLE simulations to predict the rate at which gravitational waves caused by collisions between supermassive black holes might be detected. Credit: The EAGLE project/Stuart McAlpine

Wallpaper_Gas_EVO: 13.8 billion years of evolution of the gas in the EAGLE simulations. The intensity shows the gas density, while the colour encodes the gas temperature. Researchers used EAGLE simulations to predict the rate at which gravitational waves caused by collisions between supermassive black holes might be detected. Credit: The EAGLE project/Stuart McAlpine

Wallpaper_DM_EVO: 13.8 billion years of evolution of the dark matter in the EAGLE simulations. The intensity shows the density of dark matter. Researchers used EAGLE simulations to predict the rate at which gravitational waves caused by collisions between supermassive black holes might be detected. Credit: The EAGLE project/Stuart McAlpine

Video_Gas_EVO: 13.8 billion years of evolution of the gas in the EAGLE simulations. Gas is heated by supermassive black holes creating the red bubbles that expand from the centres of the galaxies. Researchers used EAGLE simulations to predict the rate at which gravitational waves caused by collisions between supermassive black holes might be detected. Credit: The EAGLE project /Stuart McAlpine

Zoom Gas and DM: The evolution of an individual galaxy within the EAGLE simulations shown in both gas and dark matter. When galaxies collide, the supermassive black holes in their centres will also coalesce emitting gravitational waves. Researchers used EAGLE simulations to predict the rate at which gravitational waves caused by collisions between supermassive black holes might be detected. Credit: The EAGLE project / Stuart McAlpine

 

Source information

Music from the heavens – Gravitational waves from supermassive black hole mergers in the EAGLE simulations, Salcido J, Bower, RG, et al, presented at the Royal Astronomical Society’s National Astronomy Meeting, at the University of Nottingham, Monday, June 27, 2016. The paper has been submitted for publication in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

A pdf copy of this paper is available from Durham University Marketing and Communications Office on +44 (0)191 334 6075; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

Useful web links

Institute for Computational Cosmology: http://icc.dur.ac.uk/

The EAGLE project: http://icc.dur.ac.uk/Eagle/

Professor Richard Bower profile: www.dur.ac.uk/physics/staff/profiles/?username=dph0rgb

Jaime Salcido profile: www.dur.ac.uk/research/directory/staff/?mode=staff&id=13153

Royal Astronomical Society NAM 2016: https://nam2016.org/

eLISA: www.elisascience.org/articles/elisa-mission/elisa-mission-gravitational-universe

LIGO: www.ligo.caltech.edu/

STFC: www.stfc.ac.uk

STFC short film on Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity: www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XSAVqm0XBI

 

 

About NAM 2016

The RAS National Astronomy Meeting 2016 (NAM 2016, http://nam2016.org) takes place this year at the University of Nottingham from 27 June to 1 July. NAM 2016 brings together more than 550 space scientists and astronomers to discuss the latest research in their respective fields. The conference is principally sponsored by the Royal Astronomical Society and the Science and Technology Facilities Council. Follow the conference on Twitter via @rasnam2016

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About the EAGLE Project

The EAGLE simulation project is a flagship of the Virgo consortium, and is led by scientists in Durham, Leiden and Liverpool John Moores Universities. The simulations created by the project were carried out on the DiRAC computing facility in Durham and at the Curie computing facility based in France: http://icc.dur.ac.uk/Eagle/

About Durham University
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- Ranked 70 globally in the THE World University Rankings 2015/16
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