Hanford

It took just days for a Richland observatory to detect the violent collision in space

Listen to black holes collide

The signal detected by Hanford LIGO of two black holes colliding has been converted to audio in two frequencies. The "whump" at the end is the final end spiral and merger 1.3 billion years ago of two black holes.
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The signal detected by Hanford LIGO of two black holes colliding has been converted to audio in two frequencies. The "whump" at the end is the final end spiral and merger 1.3 billion years ago of two black holes.

The LIGO observatory north of Richland has just begun its latest year-long mission.

But already it appears to have made its first detection of the run — gravitational waves from the collision of two black holes.

The operating run of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory at Hanford in Eastern Washington state began at 8 a.m. April 1.

A week later at 11:18 a.m. April 8, the Hanford-based observatory detected the possible ripples through space and time.

The detection, which also was made at LIGO Hanford’s twin observatory in Louisiana and at the Virgo observatory in Italy, has yet to be confirmed.

Since the two U.S. LIGOs made scientific history by detecting gravitational waves for the first time in September 2015, there have been just 10 more detections of gravitational waves from violent collisions in space, not including the possible discovery this week.

Alerts available to the public

With improvements made at the observatory, detections now are expected every few weeks, said Amber Strunk, the education and outreach coordinator at LIGO Hanford.

“It was exciting to have it happen so quickly, but it was not unexpected,” she said.

BlackHoleArtRGB
Artist’s conception shows two merging black holes similar to those detected by LIGO. Aurore Simonnet LIGO/Caltech/MIT/Sonoma State

In the past, the U.S. observatories spent months confirming detections before they were publicly discussed.

But starting with the current LIGO operating run, alerts will be sent out immediately to astronomers around the world. It allows them to use telescopes that detect different kinds of light to see if more data can be collected.

The public also can sign up for an app for Apple systems that provides notifications of detections.

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