• Question: How long have you been developing code to try find signals from merging stars?

    Asked by Ciaran to Willi, Lána, James, Eimear on 28 Feb 2018.
    • Photo: Lána Salmon

      Lána Salmon answered on 28 Feb 2018:

      I think this question is directed at me! I have been developing this code since August, and I’m still working on it.

      The background for why this code is needed is interesting. When stars merge, they give our gravitational waves. These are ripples in space-time, which stretch and compress space. We can detect them on earth using the LIGO and VIRGO detectors. When LIGO and VIRGO detect gravitational waves, they tell astronomers ‘Look at this area of the sky and try to see something’. The problem is, this area of the sky is usually quite big, as they can’t pinpoint exactly where the merger happened.

      Back in August we had never seen the merging stars which create gravitational waves with normal telescopes. We had never seen them with our eyes, just through movements in space. So my PhD project is about searching for these signals in those big areas of the sky using a small robotic telescope owned by UCD. This telescope is called Watcher and it’s in South Africa.

      Then on the 17th of August, telescopes all over the world detected the first light from a gravitational wave source. Lucky for me, at the very beginning of my PhD, I got to work on the analysis of this source. It was very exciting!

      Now LIGO and VIRGO are offline to be upgraded. They will be back online at the end of the year, and my code needs to be ready. Now that we know that we can see these things happening, it’s all about seeing them again. We need to catch these signals quickly by searching the sky really quickly. So that’s my job!