To the edge of the universe — and beyond | Titan
“His observations will tell us exactly when and in what abundance the first stars formed. But even more exciting, if Cosmic Explorer detects signals that predate the first stars, it will tell us that so-called primordial black holes exist and were formed when the universe was born.
The scientific collaborations LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) and Virgo have observed 90 gravitational wave events from detectors in the United States and Italy since 2015. More than 100 years ago, the theory of relativity d ‘Einstein predicted that gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of spacetime that travel at the speed of light – exist.
For most of history, light, like that of Galileo’s telescope, was the only tool humans had to observe the universe beyond the solar system, Lovelace said. The LIGO project, funded by the National Science Foundation, has given mankind a fundamentally different new tool to observe the universe in gravitational waves, caused by astronomical sources located billions of light-years away.
A new horizon
Today, physicists Smith, Lovelace and Jocelyn Read are involved in various aspects of the Cosmic Explorer project, including spearheading efforts to identify suitable locations for the two Cosmic Explorer observing sites, to organize the Cosmic Explorer Consortium of global researchers and to lead the computational science of Cosmic Explorer.
Read, an associate professor of physics and an internationally renowned astrophysicist, is excited to learn more about how massive stars live, die and create matter.
“Cosmic Explorer will act as an astrophysical-scale collider, measuring gravitational waves resulting from the impact and aftermath of neutron star mergers with incredible precision,” she says. “Mapping the occurrence of these mergers through cosmic time will help us understand how heavy elements were forged during the history of our universe.”
Read was asked to help write the first Cosmic Explorer proposal, which later led to the $2.2 million Cosmic Explorer Horizon study, funded by the National Science Foundation.
She convinced her colleagues Lovelace and Smith — all three founding faculty members of the Nicholas and Lee Begovich Center for Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy — to join the effort. The center for gravitational wave research, education and awareness, known as GWPAC, celebrated its 10th anniversary in September.
The physicists are co-authors of the Cosmic Explorer Horizon 2021 study, which envisions the science, technology, partnerships, timing and estimated $2 billion cost of the project, which is expected to be built over the next decade. . Other CSUF co-authors are former postdoctoral fellow Philippe Landry and 2022 graduate Alex Gruson (MS Physics). Project partners are Caltech, MIT, Syracuse University and Pennsylvania State University.
As the organizer of the Cosmic Explorer Consortium, which aims to organize and represent the broader Cosmic Explorer community, Read works with other scientists to develop the consortium’s structure and goals. It also recruits collaborators to assess the scientific potential of Cosmic Explorer and contribute to the research and development necessary to make the project a reality. The first observations should begin in 2035.
Smith, who specializes in the optics and characterization of gravitational wave detectors, is the director of instruments and observatories for Cosmic Explorer. In this role, he leads the effort to identify and evaluate suitable observatory locations and oversees the success of the project’s instruments, facilities and site planning.
Lovelace, who uses numerical relativity on a supercomputer to simulate merging black holes as sources of gravitational waves, is the lead computer scientist on the project. His responsibilities include defining compute requirements and helping develop the plan for how Cosmic Explorer will manage its data, such as who will have access to it and how it will be stored. It also contributes to efforts to ensure that supercomputer calculations modeling gravitational wave sources are accurate enough for Cosmic Explorer.
As physicists shift their research to support Cosmic Explorer, they look forward to making more groundbreaking discoveries and deepening their understanding of the densest matter in the universe through gravitational wave observations.
“I’m still impressed that the idea of gravitational wave astrophysics has become a reality and that we’re only just beginning to explore this rich new perspective on our universe,” Read shares.
“I look forward to new discoveries, like wonky neutron stars in our own galaxy, an unforeseen wave pattern that could signify new physics, or an unexpected, out-of-this-world source of gravitational waves.”