The Sound of Exotic Astrophysical “Instruments”

by Sebastian Völkel and Kostas Kokkotas

Could you distinguish the sound of a wormhole from an ultra compact star or black hole?

Such an exotic, though quite fundamental question, could be asked to any physicist after the groundbreaking and Nobel Prize winning discoveries of gravitational waves from merging black holes and neutron stars. Gravitational waves provide mankind with a novel sense, the ability to hear the universe. This analogy, between sound waves and gravitational waves, will bring to the minds of many physicists Mark Kac’s famous  question: “Can One hear the Shape of a Drum?” [1], and not just to the drummers amongst us. The possibility of this analogy is one of the ways in which gravitational waves are very distinct from the usual tool of astronomy, light.

To answer the question for our exotic instruments, we will rephrase it in a more technical form. In the simplest version one can describe linear perturbations of spherically symmetric and non-rotating models of wormholes and ultra compact stars. It is well known that the perturbation equations for these cases can simplify to the study of the one-dimensional wave equation with an effective potential. The solutions, which are usually given as a set of modes, represent the characteristic sound of the object. The so-called quasi-normal mode (QNM) spectrum is the starting point for our discussion.


FIG. 1. Sebastian Völkel (right) is a PhD student in the Theoretical Astrophysics group of Professor Kostas Kokkotas at the University of Tübingen, located in the south of Germany. Among his research interests is the study of compact objects along with the associated gravitational wave emissions. More information about his research can be found here.
Professor Kostas Kokkotas (left) is leading the group of Theoretical Astrophysics at the University of Tübingen. The focus of his research is on the dynamics of compact objects (neutron stars & black-holes) as sources of gravitational waves in general relativity and in alternative theories of gravity. More information about the group can be found here.
Photo by Severin Frank.

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The gravitational-wave story of a neutron-star merger

by Jocelyn Read, California State University Fullerton

With several binary black hole mergers observed in the past two years, astronomers and relativists have become familiar with their general features: a quick chirp signal lasting seconds or less, a familiar inspiral-merger-ringdown pattern of waves, and a dark event in a distant galaxy, billions of light-years away.

GW170817 is a little bit different.

We’ve already seen systems like its presumed antecedent in our galaxy, where pulsars with neutron-star companions precisely map out their hours-long orbits with radio blips. We can imagine, then, the last 80 million or so years of GW170817’s source. Two neutron stars, in a galaxy only 40 Mpc away, driven through a slow but steady inspiral by gravitational radiation. For us distant observers, things become more interesting when the increasing orbital frequency sends the emitted gravitational waves into the sensitive range of our ground-based detectors.


Dr. Jocelyn Read explains gravitational waves to undergraduate students Isabella Molina and Erick Leon.

I wanted to take this opportunity to give a sense of scale, so consider this a tour of some interesting way-points along the signal’s path through that sensitive range of frequencies. Many thanks to my colleagues in the LIGO and Virgo collaborations who’ve helped lay out these markers over the last weeks – and of course, any remaining errors are my own. Continue reading

Tails of gravitational waves and mechanics of compact binaries

by Luc Blanchet and Alexandre Le Tiec

The first law of binary black hole mechanics can be extended to include non local tail effects.

Ever since Kepler’s discovery of the laws of planetary motion, the “two-body problem” has always played a central role in gravitational physics. In Einstein’s general theory of relativity, the simplest and most “universal,” purely gravitational, two-body problem is that of a binary system of black holes. The inspiral and merger of two compact objects (i.e. bodies whose radius is comparable to their mass, in “geometric” units where G = c = 1) produces copious amounts of gravitational radiation, as was recently discovered by LIGO’s multiple detections of gravitational waves from black hole binary systems.


Alexandre Le Tiec (left) celebrates the detection of gravitational waves and Luc Blanchet (right) thinks about gravitational waves in Quy Nhon, Vietnam

In general relativity, the inspiral and onset of the merger of two compact objects is indeed universal, as it does not depend on the nature of the bodies, be they black holes or neutron stars, or possibly more exotic objects like boson stars or even naked singularities. However, the gravitational waves generated during the post-merger phase depend on the internal structure of the compact objects, and in the case of neutron stars should reveal many details about the scenario for the formation of the final black hole after merger, and the equation of state of nuclear matter deep inside the neutron stars

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Surfing a wave to Stockholm

by Clifford M. Will, CQG Editor-in-Chief

What a week for gravitational physics!   

First came the September 27th announcement of another detection of gravitational waves, this time by the three-detector network that included Virgo along with the two LIGO observatories. The source of the gravitational waves was another fairly massive black hole binary merger, with black holes of 30 and 26 solar masses. Once again, about 3 solar masses were converted to energy in a fraction of a second, leaving behind a 53 solar mass black hole spinning at about 70 percent of the maximum allowed. With  Virgo included in the detection, the localization of the source on the sky was improved dramatically over earlier detections by LIGO alone, dropping to a small blob on the sky measuring 60 square degrees, from the large, 1000 square degree banana-shaped regions of earlier detections.

For the first time, a test of gravitational-wave polarizations was carried out.  Because the arms of the two LIGO instruments are roughly parallel, they have very weak sensitivity to different polarization modes of the waves.  But with Virgo’s very different orientation, it was possible to show that the data favor the two spin-2 modes of general relativity over pure spin-0 or pure spin-1 modes.

But then, six days later came the announcement of the Nobel Prize in Physics, awarding one half of the prize to Rainer Weiss of MIT and the other half shared between Kip Thorne and Barry Barish of Caltech, for decisive contributions to the detection of gravitational radiation. CQG congratulates the winners!

Amaldi12 – The Edoardo Amaldi Conference on Gravitational Waves

It’s been a busy few weeks for CQG – we’ve been to the Era of Gravitational Wave Astronomy conference in Paris, hosted the annual Editorial Board meeting in London, attended the Loops17 conference in Warsaw and now it’s time to fly off to California for Amaldi12.


Amaldi12, named after Edoardo Amaldi, will be held at the Hilton Hotel in Pasadena, CA from 9th – 14th July. The conference will explore the science around gravitational waves and their detection, particularly in light of the confirmed detections by LIGO-Virgo and new advances with the LISA mission.

I will be at the conference Monday through Friday with a table top booth at the event, located near the international ballroom in the hotel. I’m really interested in hearing your thoughts about the journal, so please do stop by say hello and have a chat.

The Era of Gravitational-Wave Astronomy

At the beginning of next week I will be attending the Era of Gravitational Wave Astronomy conference (or TEGRAW 2017, for short) at the Institut D’Astrophysique in Paris, France.


The conference aims to highlight the most recent developments in both theoretical works (such as the two-body problem, effective theories, numerical relativity, and tests of gravity theories) and experimental works (such as future detectors, both on ground and in space).

IOP Publishing/ CQG will have a small table top booth at the event so feel free to stop by if you fancy having a chat. I’ll only be there Monday through Wednesday (unfortunately missing the social event) but am looking forward to meeting you.

I hope to see you in Paris!

Advancing the Search for Gravitational Waves with Next-Generation Citizen Science

by Michael Zevin.


Michael Zevin is a third-year doctoral student in astrophysics at Northwestern University. He is a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, and in addition to citizen science and LIGO detector characterization his research focuses on utilizing gravitational-wave detections to learn about binary stellar evolution and the environments in which compact binaries form.

With the first observations of gravitational waves and the discovery of binary black hole systems, LIGO has unveiled a new domain of the universe to explore. Though the recent signals persisted in LIGO’s sensitive band for a second or less, these last words of the binary that were spewed into the cosmos provided an unprecedented test of general relativity and insight into the progenitor stars that subsequently formed into the colliding black holes. However, the hunt is far from over. With LIGO’s second observing run underway, we can look forward to many more gravitational-wave signals, and as is true with any new mechanism for studying the cosmos, we can also expect to find the unexpected.

The extreme sensitivity required to make such detections was acquired through decades of developing methods and machinery to isolate the sensitive components of LIGO from non-gravitational-wave disturbances. Nonetheless, as a noise-dominated experiment, LIGO is still susceptible to Continue reading

Tails from Eccentric Encounters

by Nicholas Loutrel.


Nicholas Loutrel is a Graduate Student in the eXtreme Gravity Institute at Montana State University.

A new method of computation aims to fill in the gaps in our knowledge of gravitational waves from eccentric binaries.

The modeling of gravitational waves (GWs) suitable for detection with ground-based detectors has been mostly focused on binary systems composed of compact objects, such as neutron stars (NSs) and black holes (BHs). Binaries that form with wide orbital separations are expected to have very small orbital eccentricity, typically less than 0.1, by the time their GW emission enters the detection band of these instruments. However, in dense stellar environments, unbound encounters between multiple compact objects can result in the formation of binaries with high orbital eccentricity (close to, but still less than unity) and whose GW emission is in band for ground-based detectors. Such systems are expected to be Continue reading

Pulsed Gravitational Waves


Timothy J. Walton occupies some quantum state between a physicist and a mathematician, having obtained his PhD from the physics department at Lancaster University in 2008 but now masquerading as a lecturer in mathematics at the University of Bolton.

by Timothy J. Walton.

Applying techniques from classical electrodynamics to generate new gravitational wave perturbations

I must begin with a confession: I don’t view myself as a gravitational physicist. Despite my PhD at Lancaster University involving a formulation of relativistic elasticity and an awful lot of differential geometry, my research thus far has been within the realm of classical and quantum electrodynamics. But it was precisely within that domain, along one particular avenue of investigation, where the first seeds of an idea were sown. Following my earlier work on a class of exact finite energy, spatially compact solutions to the vacuum source-free Maxwell equations – pulsed electromagnetic waves – describing single cycle pulses of laser light [1], together with Shin Goto at Kyoto University in Japan and my former PhD supervisor Robin Tucker at Lancaster University, a new question arose: “do pulsed gravitational waves exist?’’

As I recall, this question was posed and began to take root during one of the regular meetings I have with Robin. Within my institution, I am fortunate enough Continue reading

Pushing post-Newtonian theory even further!

by Tanguy Marchand, Luc Blanchet and Guillame Faye.

With the spectacular discoveries by the LIGO/VIRGO collaboration of gravitational waves from the coalescence of black-hole binaries, we foresee the possibility of extremely accurate measurements of the so-called post-Newtonian (PN) coefficients that describe the gravitational waveform of these systems in the inspiral phase prior to the final coalescence. The PN coefficients are especially important because they probe the non-linear structure of general relativity (GR) and provide thus very constraining tests of this theory. In turn, they permit accurate measurements of the physical parameters of the binary, essentially the mass of the compact objects and their moment of rotation or spin.

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