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Challenging Einstein

24 April 2008

The collision of two black holes in space

Scientists probing the far corners of space could one day witness violent events in the creation and development of the universe thanks to a project involving the University.

Professor Bangalore Sathyaprakash of the School of Physics and Astronomy is leading a team analysing data gathered by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatories in Europe and America. The Observatories use sensitive lasers and detectors to scan the universe in search of ripples in space called gravitational waves.

Gravitational waves are triggered by the movement of massive objects in space, such as the collision of stars and the vibrations from black holes. When these events occur, the force is so great that ripples are created in space, much the same as they would appear on a pond after throwing in a stone.

The waves were predicted in 1916 by Albert Einstein as part of his theory of general relativity, but as yet haven’t been detected directly.

Now, a seven year £100M upgrade to the detectors housed at the American Observatory means that Professor Sathyaprakash and his team could in the future help detect gravitational waves as they travel to Earth, as often as once a week.

Professor Sathyaprakash, of the School of Physics and Astronomy said: "The Gravitational Physics group at Cardiff is involved in the search for the most violent phenomena in the Universe, namely collisions of neutron stars and black holes, progenitors of gamma-ray bursts and supernovae. By observing gravitational waves we will subject Einstein’s theory of gravity to the most stringent test ever."