A study shows how the Neutron Star Extreme Matter Observatory (NEMO) can allow some next-generation black hole detectors – all at reduced costs.
The research explains the design and science case behind the Neutron Star Extreme Matter Observatory (NEMO). It is described as an interferometer enhanced to study about nuclear physics with merging neutron stars.
The design uses high circulating laser power, quantum squeezing, and detector topology to sense the high frequency necessary to investigate the nuclear matter.
The research further stated that more concept studies are required for detailing the specifics of the detector. A project dubbed as “Finding NEMO” is also underway, which aims at finding a suitable location for the Neutron Star Extreme Matter Observatory.
The research aligns with an Astronomy Decadal Plan mid-term review by the Australian Academy of Sciences, where NEMO is listed as a priority.
NEMO And Other Third-Gen Detectors
The study has highlighted how third-generation detectors require a huge amount of funding. Moreover, consistent technological development is required over the years. A member of the research team, Francisco Hernandez Vivanco, stated that recent advancements are only the beginning of gravitational wave astronomy. There’s a lot of things that are yet to be studied, perhaps, which can be achieved with better detectors. He stated:
Most information regarding the nuclear matter lies in the 2-4 kHz frequency band of the gravitational waves. This cannot be detected by most of the traditional detectors. The sensitivity factor of the third-gen detectors, on the other hand, is greater than the current detectors by a factor of 10. Such sensitivity changes will allow the detection of post-merger remnants at the rate of few per year compared to one per few decades. They can detect any black hole merger in the universe and almost all neutron star collisions.
However, these detectors are extremely expensive. They can cost upwards of $1 billion. They require trusted global investment as the gravitational waves cannot be detected until the next 15 years.
On the other hand, NEMO costs only about 10% of the other third-generation detectors, that is, less than $100 million. Additionally, NEMO has a substantially shortened development timescale, and it provides a test-bed facility for third-generation devices.
A Little About Gravitational Wave Science
A lead co-author of the study stated, “Gravitational-wave astronomy is reshaping our understanding of the Universe.” Let’s understand what it is.
Gravitational waves are ripples/distortions in the fabric of space and time caused due to immensely energetic processes in the universe. These waves are produced by cataclysmic events such as colliding black holes, supernovae, and colliding neutron stars. In some cases, the waves are also generated by the rotation of neutron stars with imperfect spheres. It is speculated that even remnants of the gravitational radiation created by the Big Bang caused gravitational waves.
In 1916, in his theory of General Relativity, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves. However, he could not back his prediction as detecting these waves would require a history of immense technological advancement and extremely powerful detectors. The first evidence of existence was established in 1974. Since then, many kinds of research confirmed the existence of gravitational waves. However, the confirmations were made without any physical evidence since they were based on adherence to theory and mathematics only.
This changed in 2015 when LIGO’s interferometer physically detected undulations caused by gravitational waves, which were produced by two colliding black holes that were 1.3 billion light-years away. This was etched as a remarkable event in the history of Astronomy.
Since the 1960s, gravitational wave detectors have been improved steadily. NEMO and the other third-generation interferometers are the next steps in pushing gravitational wave astronomy to understand black holes and neutron stars.
A lead author of the NEMO study stated: