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How to Detect Colliding Black Holes
by Staff Writers
Potsdam, Germany (SPX) Mar 17, 2016

The two black holes detected by LIGO during their last orbits about each other, just before they collide. The image from a computer calculation shows the black holes and their past tracks in the top half, and illustrating in the bottom half how the black hole's intense gravity warps space and time. Image courtesy H. Pfeiffer/SXS Collaboration.

On March 18, 2016, Harald Pfeiffer, Associate Professor at the Canadian Institute for Theoretical Physics, Toronto, will be honoured with a Bessel Award of the Humboldt Foundation. The award will allow him to stay at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute, AEI) in Potsdam where he will work closely with Prof. Buonanno's division on the prediction of the gravitational waves that are generated when black holes collide.

Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves 100 years ago. These tiny ripples in space and time are generated when black holes or neutron stars collide.

In September 2015, the LIGO observatories detected gravitational waves for the very first time on Earth. The waves they catched from space originated from two black holes that merged 1.3 billion light years ago in a distant galaxy. Finding the tiny waves, as well as deciphering what was seen, requires detailed knowledge of the expected signals.

"We are looking for the needle in the haystack because the signals are buried in the noise", Pfeiffer explains. "But if we know how the needle looks like we have a better chance to find it." Pfeiffer's research on the construction of waveform models for gravitational-wave detectors focuses on numerical simulations - he solves Einstein's equations on supercomputers.

Together with his collaborators he is not only looking for one single needle, but for lots of different looking needles: binaries of black holes and/or neutron stars of different masses and spins that generate different looking signals.

Pfeiffer's research not only helps us locate black holes in the Universe and determine their size, but his calculations also teach us how space-time behaves when it is warped by black holes.

Pfeiffer has already arrived at AEI and will stay until July, 2016. "It is a great honour to have been selected for a Bessel Award of the Humboldt Foundation" says Pfeiffer.

"I am excited about the possibility to stay for an extended period at the Albert Einstein Institute, which combines world-class excellence in science with a welcoming and friendly atmosphere.

"During my stay I will study jointly with Prof. Buonanno's division, the collision of two black holes to enable gravitational wave detectors to measure properties of black holes, and to decide whether Einstein's theory of General Relativity is correct."

Helmut Schwarz, President of the Humboldt Foundation, will present the award at a special ceremony being held in Bamberg on March 18 at the 44th Symposium for Research Award winners.

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Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics
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Previous Report
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Innsbruck in Austria (SPX) Feb 29, 2016
We live in a universe dominated by unseen matter, and on the largest scales, galaxies and everything they contain are concentrated into filaments that stretch around the edge of enormous voids. Thought to be almost empty until now, a group of astronomers based in Austria, Germany and the United States now believe these dark holes could contain as much as 20% of the 'normal' matter in the cosmos, ... read more

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