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Grant Awarded To Develop Advanced Space Exploration Infrastructure
December 28, 2018

Physics professor and Christopher Newport University (CNU) students are part of a team uncovering new properties of black holes.

Dr. Ryan Fisher of the Department of Physics, Computer Science and Engineering (PCSE) is one of a select group of scientists to announce the detection of four new gravitational waves. These detections will broaden the understanding of black holes and the composition of the universe.

Gravitational waves are distortions in space caused by objects with huge masses moving at nearly the speed of light, and carrying the amount of energy of several times the total energy of the sun. These gravitational waves can travel for billions of years before they reach the Earth, where their effect is extremely tiny, requiring sensitive detectors to measure them.

The discovery – announced recently at a scientific meeting – is the latest accomplishment of Dr. Fisher and a team of researchers affiliated with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the U.S. and its European counterpart Virgo.

The LIGO and Virgo detectors first captured signals of a wave emanating from a massive collision in outer space in 2015. The new announcement concerns gravitational waves from a total of nine stellar-mass binary black hole mergers and one binary neutron star merger.

His research, aided by Christopher Newport students, is supported by a four-year, $10.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation. Through this work, Dr. Fisher seeks to develop new methods for the exploration of the universe.

According to information, the project will result in the development and operation of substantial computational infrastructure at Christopher Newport, which Dr. Fisher says is an essential component in the detection of gravitational waves. The two LIGO detectors themselves are housed in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana.

The LIGO and Virgo detectors are down for upgrades now but will begin observing again early next year. “We expect a hugely increased rate of detections, possibly as many as one per week,” Dr. Fisher says. The Christopher Newport team will then take that data and join over 1,000 scientists in 18 countries in hunting for evidence of new gravitational waves.

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