Ripples in the fabric of the universe may reveal the beginning of time

A numerical simulation of neutron stars merging to form a black hole, with their accretion disks interacting to produce electromagnetic waves. Credit: L. Rezolla (AEI) & M. Koppitz (AEI & Zuse-Institut Berlin)

Scientists have advanced in discovering how to use ripples in space-time known as gravitational waves to go back to the beginning of everything we know. Researchers say they can better understand the state of the universe shortly after the Big Bang by learning how these ripples in the fabric of the universe flow through planets and intergalactic gas.

“We can’t see the early universe directly, but perhaps we can see it indirectly if we look at how gravitational waves from that time affect the matter and radiation we can observe today,” said Deepin Garg, lead author of a paper report. Results in Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics. Garg is a graduate student in the Princeton Program in Plasma Physics, based at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) of the US Department of Energy (DOE).

Garg and his advisor Elijah Dodin, who is affiliated with both Princeton University and PPPL, adapted the technology from their research into fusion energy, the process that powers the sun and stars that scientists are developing to generate electricity on Earth without greenhouse gas emissions or long production. Live radioactive waste. Fusion scientists calculate how electromagnetic waves move through the plasma, the soup of electrons and atomic nuclei that fuel fusion facilities known as tokamak and stars.

It turns out that this process is similar to the movement of gravitational waves through matter. “We put the plasma wave machines to work on the gravitational wave problem,” Garg said.

Gravitational waves, which were first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 as a consequence of his theory of relativity, are disturbances in space-time caused by the motion of very dense bodies. They travel at the speed of light and were first detected in 2015 by the Laser Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) through detectors in Washington State and Louisiana.

Garg and Dodin created formulas that could theoretically trigger gravitational waves to reveal hidden properties of celestial bodies, such as stars many light years away. When waves flow through matter, they create light whose properties depend on the material’s density.

A physicist can analyze this light and discover properties around a star millions of light-years away. The technology could also lead to discoveries about smashing together neutron stars and black holes, the extremely dense leftovers from dying stars. They can even reveal information about what was happening during the Big Bang and the very first moments of our universe.

The search began without any sense of its significance. “I thought this would be a small six-month project for a graduate student, and it would involve solving a simple command,” Dowden said. “But once we started to delve deeper into the topic, we realized that very little was understood about the problem and we could do some basic theoretical work here.”

Scientists are now planning to use this technology for data analysis in the near future. “We have some formulas now, but getting meaningful results takes a little more work,” Garg said.

more information:
Deepen Garg et al, Patterns of Gravitational Waves in Matter, Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics (2022). DOI: 10.1088/1475-7516/2022/08/017

Courtesy of Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory

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