The National Science Foundation (NSF) has renewed its support of the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) with a $17 million grant over 5 years to operate the NANOGrav Physics Frontiers Center (PFC). The NANOGrav PFC will address a transformational challenge in astrophysics: the detection and characterization of low-frequency gravitational waves. The most promising sources of low-frequency gravitational waves are supermassive binary black holes that form via the mergers of massive galaxies. Additional low-frequency gravitational-wave sources include cosmic strings, inflation, and other early universe processes.
In data gathered and analyzed over 13 years, the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) has found an intriguing low-frequency signal that may be attributable to gravitational waves.
NANOGrav researchers studying the signals from distant pulsars – small, dense stars that rapidly rotate, emitting beamed radio waves, much like a lighthouse – have used radio telescopes to collect data that may indicate the effects of gravitational waves, as reported recently in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The NANOGrav Collaboration is greatly saddened by the collapse of the 305-m Arecibo telescope and the event’s impact on the staff and scientists who have worked so hard for so many years to ensure its success. We will miss the telescope itself, as one of our own. Many of our scientific careers began with the training we received and camaraderie we enjoyed at Arecibo, for which we will be forever grateful. We also stand in solidarity with our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico for whom Arecibo has been an inspiration and source of pride for so many years. We urge the National Science Foundation to identify uses for the site and staff, as soon as practicable, that benefit from Arecibo’s unique characteristics and promote its continued inspirational role in STEM fields.
The damage to the NSF’s Arecibo telescope from the falling support cable earlier this month will result in significant disruption to telescope operations, dealing a blow to radio astronomy, planetary science, and aeronomy. Arecibo has been the most sensitive radio telescope in the world for most of the last half century, and a continuing series of upgrades have kept it at the cutting-edge in multiple science areas.
For the past twelve years, a group of astronomers have been watching the sky carefully, timing pulses of radio waves being emitted by rapidly spinning stars called pulsars, first discovered 50 years ago. These astronomers are interested in understanding pulsars, but their true goal is much more profound; the detection of a new kind of gravitational waves. With a new, more sophisticated analysis, they are much closer than ever before.
New results from NANOGrav – the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves – establish astrophysically significant limits in the search for low-frequency gravitational waves.
The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) $14.5 million over 5 years to create and operate a Physics Frontiers Center (PFC).
Dr. Elizabeth Ferrara
For a general overview of NANOGrav, the collaboration has created this slide deck presentation for the press.