Basics on the Observations of Gravitational Waves

  • Maurizio Spurio
Part of the Astronomy and Astrophysics Library book series (AAL)


On February 11, 2016, the LIGO collaboration announced the discovery of gravitational radiation due to the merger of two black holes. As the event was observed on September 14, 2015, its official designation is GW150914. This discovery represents a major scientific breakthrough for physics, astrophysics, and cosmology. Probably even more important, on October 16, 2017, the LIGO/Virgo collaboration announced, together with a large number of other experiments, the first coincident observation of GWs and electromagnetic radiation. These observations are connected with a collision of two neutron stars 40 Mpc away from Earth, producing almost simultaneously both gravitational radiation (GW170817) and a short gamma ray burst (GRB170817A). The electromagnetic observations in the following days revealed signatures of recently synthesized material, including gold and platinum, solving a decades-long mystery concerning where about half of all elements heavier than iron are produced. The purpose of this chapter is to explain key features of the observed gravitational radiation in terms of introductory physics. Gravitational waves carry a form of radiant energy that the current generation of laser interferometers was finally able to detect. We use data on figures reported in the discovery papers to make estimates of the astrophysical parameters. Simple arguments based on Newtonian gravity, dimensional analysis and analogies with electromagnetic waves are employed. Key parameters obtained in this way (masses of merging objects, distances, emitted energy) are compared with the parameters reported in the discovery papers, in which they were extracted by fitting data to templates generated by numerical relativity. In the near future, networks of interferometers will help researchers to determine the locations of sources in the sky and trigger ”traditional” astronomical observations and neutrino telescopes for the study of high-energy processes in the Universe. Combining observations in this way is the basis of multimessenger astrophysics.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maurizio Spurio
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Physics and Astronomy, and INFNUniversity of BolognaBolognaItaly

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