Our gravitational wave experts share their thoughts on developments in the discovery and understanding of gravitational waves.

Birmingham scientists celebrate first direct observation of colliding neutron stars

Visualisation of two neutron stars colliding, as directly observed by the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO); the Europe-based Virgo detector, and some 70 ground- and space-based observatories on 17 August 2017.For the first time, scientists have directly detected gravitational waves -- ripples in space and time -- in addition to light from the spectacular collision of two neutron stars. This is the first time that astronomers have been able to study the same event with both gravitational waves and light.

The discovery was made using the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO); the Europe-based Virgo detector, and some 70 ground- and space-based observatories. This breakthrough is the result of 40 years of work, and marks the beginning of a truly new era in observational astronomy.

At 13:41:04 BST on August 17, 2017 the Advanced LIGO and Advanced Virgo detectors recorded the gravitational-wave signal (GW170817) from a binary neutron star coalescence. Two seconds later, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor independently detected a short burst of gamma-rays (GRB170817A).

Scientists from the University of Birmingham’s Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy, who have worked on the Advanced LIGO project since its inception, have been celebrating the announcement. Watch the videos below to find out more. 



Image: NSIllustration; CREDIT: NSF_LIGO_Sonoma State University_A. Simonnet

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Scientists celebrate first direct observation of colliding neutron stars 

Birmingham's contribution to the Nobel Prize in Physics 2017

Discovering the secrets of the universe such as black holes

Professor Alberto Vechhio,  Director of the Institute of Gravitational Wave Astronomy, reflects on Birmingham's role in the development of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detector and the observation of gravitational waves.  

The Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 was awarded to Rainer Weiss (MIT), Barry C. Barish (Caltech) and Kip S. Thorne (Caltech) "for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves". Interviewed soon after the announcement, Kip Thorne said, “Huge discoveries are really the result of giant collaborations”. 

The University of Birmingham has been part of the Advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) project since its inception, and is one of the larger groups of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

Twenty-four scientists from Birmingham – PhD students, post-docs, technical and academic staff  – are members of the “LIGO-discovery Team”, and, as such, co-recipients of the 2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, which was awarded “for the observation of gravitational waves, opening new horizons in astronomy and physics”.

Birmingham has made wide-ranging contributions to Advanced LIGO and the science that has ensued from this extra-ordinary machine.

Building LIGO and analysisng results

The group has developed and built high performance sensors and control electronics for Advanced LIGO. They find their home in the suspension systems at the heart of the instruments in Hanford (Washington) and Livingston (Louisiana). A third, identical set is stored in a warehouse in the USA ready to be shipped to India to become part of the LIGO-India instrument.

Birmingham scientists have also developed one of the main simulation tools for the design of optical configurations, which is used for the commissioning and development of km-scale interferometers.

The Birmingham group has pioneered the framework and analysis algorithms that are used to tease out from the feeble gravitational-wave signal the physical properties, such as masses and spins, of the sources that produce this radiation and enable in-depth studies of astrophysics and fundamental physics. Sky maps and information about source’s location and distance,  that are broadcast to astronomers around the world to follow-up gravitational-wave events in the electromagnetic spectrum, are also generated with these algorithms.

Birmingham astrophysicists have combined tools for statistical analysis with rapid binary population synthesis simulations to shed light on the astrophysical processes that generate the systems observed by LIGO/Virgo. 

Investing in future discoveries

This is just the beginning of new explorations of the cosmos. Exciting discoveries and (likely) surprises lay ahead, in the years and decades to come.

Birmingham is already investing in the future, with strong involvement in the Advanced LIGO upgrades, leading to the next-generation ground-based laser interferometers. , which will will incorporate, amongst other things, sophisticated quantum techniques applied to macroscopic objects. We are are also supporting the European Space Agency's Laser Interferometer Space Antenna (LISA) mission, which will create the first space-based gravitational wave observatory.

Image credit: Ute Kraus, Physics education group Kraus, Universität Hildesheim, Space Time Travel, (background image of the milky way: Axel Mellinger) [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (] via Wikimedia Commons

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To find out more, please click on the links below:

Birmingham gravitational waves team welcomes 2017 Nobel Prize

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Reactions to the second detection

The Birmingham research group play an instrumental part in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), with expertise ranging from designing and building detectors to analysing the signal and learning about the universe.We asked our gravitational wave experts what they thought after the second detection.

Professor Alberto Vecchio and Professor Andreas Freise

Astrophysics and Experimental Physics

Professor Alberto Vecchio and Professor Andreas Freise

Professor Ilya Mandel

Theoretical Astrophysics

Professor Ilya Mandel

Dr Christopher Berry

Research Fellow

Dr Christopher Berry


Dr Will Farr

Theoretical Astrophysics

Dr Will Farr

Dr Conor Mow-Lowry

Experimental Physics

Dr Conor Mow-Lowry