A STATE-OF-THE-ART telescope for detecting optical signatures of gravitational waves has been launched.
The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) – built and operated by a Warwick University led international research collaboration – will search for unusual activity in the sky, following alerts from gravitational wave detectors.
This includes the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Adv-LIGO) which secured the first direct detections of gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space-time, created when massive bodies, such as black holes and neutron stars, orbit each other and merge at very high speeds.
These waves radiate through the universe at the speed of light – and analysing them provides astronomers with vital information about the bodies from which they originated and the nature of gravity.
The waves were first predicted over a century ago by Albert Einstein, but have only been directly detected in the last two years.
The astronomers’ next challenge is to link the signals from these waves with signatures in the electromagnetic spectrum, including optical light.
Dr Danny Steeghs, from Warwick’s Astronomy and Astrophysics Group, is leading the project.
He said: “After all the hard work put in by everyone, I am delighted to see the GOTO telescopes in operational mode at the Roque de los Muchachos observatory. We are all excited about the scientific opportunities it will provide.”
Dr. Duncan Galloway of Monash University added: “It’s really satisfying seeing a research collaboration that we’ve built over many years coming to fruition in such an exciting way, and we couldn’t have got here without the support of the alliance and the participating universities.
“We’ve invested strongly in gravitational wave astronomy over the last few years, leading up to the first detection announced last year, and the telescope project represents a fundamentally new observational opportunity.”