Devoting one’s professional life to something that can’t be seen could be viewed as an extraordinary (in its true sense) career. 

Professor Mark Hannam (tutor 1995-96) is at the forefront of efforts to understand collisions between black holes. He is one of the 1,000+ Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) scientists who have been working for two decades to observe these events through gravitational waves. On 11 February they announced success: the first direct detection of gravitational waves since they were predicted by Einstein 100 years ago, and the first observation of two black holes colliding.

Mark says, ”The gravitational-wave signal that we observed last year on 14 September, and announced to the world in mid-February, came from two black holes spiralling into each other. Those are the first two black holes we have ever observed colliding. The result of the collision was an even bigger black hole, and the last moments of the signal were the closest we have ever come to measuring a signal from a black hole.”

Mark’s research team at Cardiff University, Wales built a theoretical model that aims to predict all potential gravitational-wave signals that could be found by the LIGO detectors. That model was used to measure the properties of the black-hole collision. The two black holes were both roughly 30 times more massive than our sun. They collided over one billion years ago, and the event released more energy in a fraction of a second than all of the other stars in the universe combined.   

To watch Mark’s team explain about this black hole collision, see this.

UC is to hold a public lecture on this black hole collision on 7 March, to find out more go here

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