The gravitational-wave hunt just got bigger

Gravitational waves
This graphic shows the ripples in spacetime created by gravitational waves emanating from the merger of two black holes. (Max Planck Institute / NCSA Illustration)

Astronomers have detected their fourth gravitational wave from the merger of two black holes, but this one marks a new milestone.

It’s the first wave picked up by the Virgo gravitational-wave detector in Italy — and the first opportunity to triangulate on its location with the twin detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, in Louisiana and Washington state.

The Aug. 14 event, known as GW170814, showed that the ripples in spacetime were emitted by the smash-up of two black holes about 31 times and 25 times as massive as the sun, located about 1.8 billion light-years away. The merger created a single black hole about 53 times the sun’s mass.

Three solar masses were converted directly into gravitational-wave energy, in accordance with Albert Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2.

All that follows the model set by LIGO with its three previous detections since September 2015. The new twist involves folding in the data from Virgo, which started its first full-fledged advanced run in league with LIGO on Aug. 1.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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