What does numerical relativity have to do with detecting gravitational waves?

Heather Fong — a PhD candidate in Physics at the University of Toronto, who also loves travelling and gastronomy photography — gives us an insight into her group’s work on using numerical relativity simulations for the detection of gravitational waves.


Heather Fong, a PhD candidate in Physics at the University of Toronto.

Answer: quite a lot! Numerical relativity (NR) provides the most accurate solutions to the binary black hole problem, which is exactly the type of source LIGO wants to detect — and has succeeded at! Most of the time, LIGO’s data streams are overwhelmed with noise, and so we use a technique called matched-filtering to identify gravitational-wave signals. Finding and characterizing signals requires a massive amount of accurate waveforms, and we use semi-analytic waveform models as filters which are built using the results of NR simulations.

Why don’t we use NR alone to identify signals? It certainly would be ideal if the theoretical template waveforms were generated entirely from NR; not only would we be using the most accurate waveforms available, it would also allow us to Continue reading