Calculating the Sources of Gravitational Waves
Among the predictions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity are the existence of black holes and gravitational waves. Up until recently, despite much circumstantial evidence gathered by astronomers, these bizarre deviations from Newton’s theory of gravity had no firm experimental confirmation.
According to Saul A. Teukolsky, Astronomy/Physics, one of the most exciting scientific discoveries of the past 50 years was the detection of gravitational waves from a pair of orbiting black holes. The founders of the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) experiment, which detected the waves, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for this work in 2017.
Researchers confirmed that the source of the waves was a pair of black holes by comparing the signal with supercomputer calculations that solve Einstein’s equations for such a source. Teukolsky led efforts to carry out these calculations, collaborating with scientists at various institutions including California Institute of Technology. With support from the Sherman Fairchild Foundation, the collaboration is now continuing to improve the calculations and also to model the most recent LIGO discovery—gravitational waves from colliding neutron stars.