Gravitational waves from a binary black hole merger observed by LIGO and Virgo

The LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the Virgo collaboration have reported the first joint detection of gravitational waves with both the LIGO and Virgo detectors. This is the fourth announced detection of a binary black hole system and the first significant gravitational-wave signal recorded by the Virgo detector and highlights the scientific potential of a three-detector network of gravitational-wave detectors.

The three-detector observation was made on August 14, 2017 at 10:30:43 UTC. The two Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, and funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), and the Virgo detector, located near Pisa, Italy, detected a transient gravitational-wave signal produced by the coalescence of two stellar mass black holes.

This is the fourth detection of a binary black hole system. While this new event is of astrophysical relevance, its detection comes with an additional asset: this is the first significant gravitational wave signal recorded by the Virgo detector, which has recently completed its upgrade to Advanced Virgo.

The detected gravitational waves—ripples in space and time—were emitted during the final moments of the merger of two black holes with masses about 31 and 25 times the mass of the sun and located about 1.8 billion light-years away. The newly produced spinning black hole has about 53 times the mass of our sun, which means that about 3 solar masses were converted into gravitational-wave energy during the coalescence.

The discovery, accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters, was made by the LIGO-Virgo Collaboration with includes teams in the UK, including the University of Birmingham.

“It is wonderful to see a first gravitational-wave signal in our brand new Advanced Virgo detector only two weeks after it officially started taking data,” says Jo van den Brand of Nikhef and VU University Amsterdam, spokesperson of the Virgo collaboration. “That’s a great reward after all the work done in the Advanced Virgo project to upgrade the instrument over the past six years.”

The Virgo detector joined the Network Observing Run 2 (O2) on August 1, 2017 at 10:00 UTC, after the multi-year Advanced Virgo upgrade program, and months of intense commissioning to improve its sensitivity. The real-time detection was triggered with data from all three LIGO and Virgo instruments. Even though Virgo is at present less sensitive than LIGO, two independent search algorithms based on all the information available from the three detectors demonstrated the evidence of a signal in the Virgo data as well.

The collaboration of LIGO and Virgo has matured over the last decade. Joint collaboration meetings and common data analyses have brought the community together. The coordinated scheduling of observing runs, with all detectors operational, is important to extract the maximum amount of science, and especially the vastly improved source localization holds great promise for the future of multimessenger astronomy. Additional results, based on data from the three-detector network, will be announced in the near future by the LIGO-Virgo collaboration; the analysis of the data is currently being finalized.

Professor Andreas Freise, from the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy, said, “Once again, we have detected echoes from colliding black holes but this time we can to pinpoint the position of the black holes much more accurately thanks to the addition of the Virgo detector to the advanced detector network.”

“Around ten years ago I was in charge of designing the core interferometer of the Advanced Virgo project. To see that instrument become a reality, and now helping to deliver significant results, is really special.”

Professor Alberto Vecchio, also from the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy, added, “We’re really proud of how our team have helped contribute to the success of this international network, from designing the equipment to analysing and interpreting the data. It is a truly exciting time for astronomy and astrophysics as we try to unravel the mysteries of the universe.”

Notes to editors

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The Virgo collaboration

It consists of more than 280 physicists and engineers belonging to 20 different European research groups: six from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France; eight from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy; two in The Netherlands with Nikhef; the MTA Wigner RCP in Hungary; the POLGRAW group in Poland; Spain with the University of Valencia; and EGO, the laboratory hosting the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy.

LIGO

It is funded by the NSF, and operated by Caltech and MIT, which conceived and built the project. Financial support for the Advanced LIGO project was led by NSF with Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) making significant commitments and contributions to the project. More than 1,200 scientists from around the world participate in the effort through the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which includes the GEO Collaboration. Additional partners are listed at http://ligo.org/partners.php

Paper

The journal article draft is available from the LIGO Document Control Center Portal and Virgo TDS.