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First Gravitational Waves Are Formed After 10 Million Years

First Gravitational Waves Are Formed After 10 Million Years

If two galaxies collide, the merging of their central black holes triggers gravitational waves, which ripple throughout space. An international research team involving the University of Zurich has now calculated that this occurs around 10 million years after the two galaxies merge — much faster than previously assumed.

In his General Theory of Relativity, Albert Einstein predicted gravitational waves over a century ago; this year, they were detected directly for the first time: The American Gravitational Wave Observatory LIGO recorded such curvatures in space from Earth, which were caused by the merging of two massive black holes.

This simulation shows how two galaxies merge over a period of 15 millionen years. The red and the blue dots illustrate the two black holes. (image: Astrophysical Journal)

This simulation shows how two galaxies merge over a period of 15 million years. The red and the blue dots illustrate the two black holes. (Image: Astrophysical Journal)

And the research on gravitational waves — and thus the origin of the universe — continues: From 2034, three satellites are to be launched into space in a project headed by the European Space Agency (ESA) to measure gravitational waves at even lower frequency ranges from space using the Evolved Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (eLISA).

Until now, however, it was not possible to conclusively predict the point at which gravitational waves are triggered and spread throughout space when galaxies merge. An international team of astrophysicists from the University of Zurich, the Institute of Space Technology Islamabad, the University of Heidelberg, and the Chinese Academy of Sciences has now calculated this for the first time using an extensive simulation.

The collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago (as shown in this animation) produced gravitational waves that were detected for the first time by researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) on September 14, 2015. (Image: Caltech)

The collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago (as shown in this animation) produced gravitational waves that were detected for the first time by researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) on September 14, 2015. (Image: Caltech)

Much faster than previously assumed

Every galaxy has a supermassive black hole at its core, which can exhibit millions or even billions of solar masses. In a realistic simulation of the universe, the merging of two roughly 3-billion-year-old galaxies lying relatively close to one another was simulated.

With the aid of supercomputers, the researchers calculated the time the two central black holes with around 100 million solar masses needed to emit strong gravitational waves after the galaxies collided.

Watch about the first observation of gravitational waves:

Year-long supercomputer calculation

The computer simulation, which took more than a year, was conducted in China, Zurich, and Heidelberg. The project required an innovative computational approach with various numerical codes on different supercomputers. In the process, each supercomputer was responsible for calculating a certain phase of the orbital convergence of the two massive black holes and their parent galaxies.

Compared to previous models, the relation between the orbits of the central black holes and the realistic structure of the parent galaxies was factored into the present simulation.

Provided by: University of Zurich.

[Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.]

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