Australian scientists, including Charles Sturt University's (CSU) Dr Philip Charlton, have played a key role in a major gravitational astronomy discovery.
For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.
Dr Charlton, Senior Lecturer in mathematics and member of the Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy (ACIGA), said the discovery opened a new window on the universe.
"In the same way that radio astronomy led to the discovery of the cosmic microwave background, the ability to 'see' in the gravitational wave spectrum will likely to lead to unexpected discoveries," he said.
Gravitational waves carry information about their dramatic origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained. Physicists have concluded that the detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.
The discovery, accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters, was made by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (which includes the Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy (ACIGA) and the GEO600 Collaboration) and the Virgo Collaboration using data from the two LIGO detectors.
Australian scientists from The Australian National University (ANU), the University of Adelaide, The University of Melbourne, the University of Western Australia (UWA), Monash University and Charles Sturt University, contributed to the discovery and helped build some of the super-sensitive instruments used to detect the gravitational waves.
CSU contributed to detector characterisation, validation of the calibration of the instruments and development of the detection pipeline for the stochastic background of gravitational waves.
Leader of the Australian Partnership in Advanced LIGO Professor David McClelland from the Australia National University (ANU), said the observation would open up new fields of research to help scientists better understand the universe.
"The collision of the two black holes was the most violent event ever recorded," Professor McClelland said.