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Gravitational waves produce background hum across the universe, pulsars reveal

Jun. 30, 2023.
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Amara Angelica

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Amara Angelica is Senior Editor, Mindplex

Artist’s concept of a collection of pulsars that detect gravitational waves from pairs of orbiting supermassive black holes. (Credit: Aurore Simonnet for the NANOGrav Collaboration)

Scientists are reporting, in a series of papers in The Astrophysical Journal Letters (and in an announcement on June 29, 2023—see video below), the first evidence that our Earth and the universe around us are awash in a background of gravitational waves.

The 15 years worth of observations by the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) suggest that these waves may be produced by supermassive black holes merging across the universe. Or they may also have other origins, such as leftover ripples in space-time created shortly after the big bang.

“The effect of the gravitational waves on the pulsars is extremely weak and hard to detect, but we built confidence in the findings over time as we collected more data,” says Katerina Chatziioannou, a NANOGrav team member and an assistant professor of physics at Caltech.

Credit: National Science Foundation
Credit: NANOGrav

Citation: Gabriella Agazie et al. The NANOGrav 15 yr Data Set: Evidence for a Gravitational-wave Background. 2023 June 29 © 2023. Published by the American Astronomical Society. The Astrophysical Journal LettersVolume 951Number 1Focus on NANOGrav’s 15 yr Data Set and the Gravitational Wave Background https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/2041-8213/acdac6 (open access)

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