Astronomy Picture of the Day

Discover the cosmos! Each day a different image or photograph of our fascinating universe is featured, along with a brief explanation written by a professional astronomer.

2016 June 15

GW151226: A Second Confirmed Source of Gravitational Radiation
Illustration Credit: LIGO, NSF

Explanation: A new sky is becoming visible. When you look up, you see the sky as it appears in light -- electromagnetic radiation. But just over the past year, humanity has begun to see our once-familiar sky as it appears in a different type of radiation -- gravitational radiation. Today, the LIGO collaboration is reporting the detection of GW151226, the second confirmed flash of gravitational radiation after GW150914, the historic first detection registered three months earlier. As its name implies, GW151226 was recorded in late December of 2015. It was detected simultaneously by both LIGO facilities in Washington and Louisiana, USA. In the featured video, an animated plot demonstrates how the frequency of GW151226 changed with time during measurement by the Hanford, Washington detector. This GW-emitting system is best fit by two merging black holes with initial masses of about 14 and 8 solar masses at a redshift of roughly 0.09, meaning, if correct, that it took roughly 1.4 billion years for this radiation to reach us. Note that the brightness and frequency -- here mapped into sound -- of the gravitational radiation peaks during the last second of the black hole merger. As LIGO continues to operate, as its sensitivity continues to increase, and as other gravitational radiation detectors come online in the next few years, humanity's new view of the sky will surely change humanity's understanding of the universe.

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