For the next three years, astronomers from the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves (NANOGrav) will have increased access and new technologies to use on the National Science Foundation’s Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in their breakthrough scientific studies of gravitational waves. This new technology and additional observation time is supported by funding from the Moore Foundation.
Founded in October 2007, NANOGrav’s research community has grown to over 150 research scientists and students at over 50 institutions. The Moore Foundation’s new $2.3 million award will provide over 600 hours of GBT observing time during each of the next three years for the monitoring or timing of over 60 rapidly-spinning millisecond pulsars. These observations, combined with over 15 years worth of timing data from the GBT and the recently-collapsed Arecibo Observatory, should enable NANOGrav to directly detect extremely low-frequency gravitational waves from supermassive black hole binaries throughout the universe. It will also enable a wide variety of exciting astrophysics with neutron stars.
“The loss of Arecibo was a huge blow to us in NANOGrav, and an even bigger blow to the island of Puerto Rico. This funding from the Moore Foundation is fantastic, as it helps to mitigate the loss of that telescope and guarantees that NANOGrav has the observing time it needs to hopefully nail down a detection of gravitational waves very soon,” says current Chair of NANOGrav, Scott Ransom, an astronomer at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory.
This research will take advantage of a new Ultra Wideband (UWB) receiver and digital instrumentation for the GBT, funded by a 2019 award from the Moore Foundation and in development by the staff of the Green Bank Observatory. The new receiver will operate at frequencies of about 0.7 to 4 GHz – a “sweet spot” for observing pulsars. This new technology has the potential to double the precision of NANOGrav’s measurements, making it more sensitive to distant sources of gravitational waves. NANOGrav’s improved data will also be used for other scientific explorations such as seeking out subtle effects from Einstein’s general relativity. The UWB instruments will also provide new insight into fast radio bursts and other radio transients.
The new UWB receiver and digital instrumentation will make NANOGrav’s GBT observation time much more efficient. While the hours available are less than those on Arecibo, the receiver’s sensitivity and new capabilities will allow them to reevaluate their targets, selecting those that are best observed by this new technology, yielding better data.
“I’m really excited to get the new receiver on the telescope. Because it works over a much wider range of wavelengths at the same time, it’s like using two GBTs simultaneously to make our observations,” says Ransom.
The new Moore Foundation funding exemplifies how a public-private partnership can enable breakthrough science, with private funding from Moore, and public funding from the NSF. Dr. Robert Kirshner, Chief Program Officer at the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, has worked closely with Ransom and the NANOGrav team. “NANOGrav is a great scientific adventure on the cusp of success. As an astronomer myself, I am especially delighted to help move this program forward with the novel receiver you’ve built and by providing telescope time that will help compensate for the tragedy at Arecibo,” shared Kirshner.
The Green Bank Observatory is a facility of the National Science Foundation and is operated by Associated Universities, Inc. To learn more about Green Bank Observatory Observatory science and to see research opportunities visit our website.
NANOGrav is funded as a National Science Foundation Physics Frontiers Center (PFC). Additional funding is provided by the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation for technology development and observations. Learn more about the NANOGrav PFC.
The Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation fosters path-breaking scientific discovery, environmental conservation, patient care improvements and preservation of the special character of the Bay Area. Visit Moore.org or follow MooreFound.