A New Window on the Universe

History is replete with turning points, moments that are looked back on as being pivotal to the flow of events that led to our civilization today. Scientific history is equally full of turning points — defining discoveries that transformed our understanding of the Universe and how it works. In 2015 such a discovery was made with the first observation of gravitational waves, which let us listen to the Universe and study it in a completely new way, founding the field of gravitational-wave astronomy.

The National Science Foundation’s LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) and the European-based Virgo instruments have now detected gravitational waves from more than 10 cosmic sources, including stellar-mass binary black hole mergers and one merger of neutron stars, which are the dense, spherical remains of stellar explosions.

Northwestern University has faculty, students, and postdocs in CIERA (Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics) working in international collaborative teams and leading work in the new fields of gravitational-wave astrophysics and multi-messenger astronomy. Explore some of the exciting moments of these discoveries with them.

LIGO & Gravitational Waves

LIGO’s first detection of gravitational waves and merging black holes occurred on September 14, 2015, an event that made headlines worldwide and confirmed a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity. The field of gravitational-wave astronomy was born with a little chirp “heard” on Earth that forever changed the way we see the universe. Additional content available on CIERA’s Gallery.

What is LIGO?

Video

What is LIGO?

CIERA Director and Northwestern LIGO group lead Vicky Kalogera talks about the different types of waves astronomers have used throughout history to study the Universe. Now, we are in the age of “multi-messenger” astronomy. This means that different types of waves from the same cosmic event can be studied.

LIGO-Virgo / Northwestern

  • Video

Binary Neutron Star Mergers

The concurrent discovery of a binary neutron star merger using both gravitational waves and light on August 17, 2017 initiated one of the most intensive world-wide astronomical observing campaigns in history. CIERA has scientists who work on both the gravitational waves and electromagnetic discovery teams.

The Signal

Video

The Signal

CIERA Associate Director and Northwestern LIGO group member Shane Larson describes how different the 2017 Neutron Star Merger (GW170817) signal is from previous signals.

LIGO-Virgo / Northwestern

  • Video

Final Flight of a Neutron Star Pair

Interactive

Final Flight of a Neutron Star Pair

This interactive allows you to investigate possible past lives of the two neutron stars that merged in an event called GW170817 in the galaxy NGC 4993. The pair of stars—a neutron star and a normal star—orbit quietly, until the normal star undergoes a supernova, spawning a second neutron star and “kicking” the system into an elliptical orbit.

LIGO-Virgo / Aaron Geller / Northwestern

  • Visualization

Peering into the Cosmic Maelstrom

Video

Peering into the Cosmic Maelstrom

Following the October 16, 2017 announcement of the first-ever observation of a binary neutron star inspiral and merger, Northwestern’s astronomy research center, CIERA, held a discussion with the Northwestern scientists behind the discovery. View the recording of this event in full, and join Professors Vicky Kalogera, Shane Larson, Raffaella Margutti and Wen-fai Fong as they

CIERA / Northwestern

Panel Discussion from Peering into the Cosmic Maelstrom

Video

Panel Discussion from Peering into the Cosmic Maelstrom

Following the October 16, 2017 announcement of the first-ever observation of a binary neutron star inspiral and merger, Northwestern’s astronomy research center, CIERA, held a discussion with the Northwestern scientists behind the discovery. View the panel discussion with Professors Vicky Kalogera, Raffaella Margutti, and Wen-fai Fong. Panel moderated by Adler Planetarium President & CEO, Michelle

CIERA / Northwestern