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Using the Milky Way as a Black-Hole Observatory

Physics/Astro Auditorium

Sarah Burke Spolaor (West Virginia University)

January 24 @ 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM

We are seeking both light and gravitational waves from binary supermassive black holes, the biggest, meanest discrete binary systems in the Universe. When two supermassive binary black holes pair up as a binary at the center of a merger remnant, during their inspiral and coalescence phases, they will produce intense gravitational radiation, which we expect to detect with gravitational-wave observatories like Pulsar Timing Arrays and LISA in the coming ~decade. Pulsar timing arrays use distributed networks of pulsars to sense these waves as they pass through our galaxy; in effect, they are an observatory on a Galactic scale.

If black holes in-spiral in an isolated environment, we should by now have already detected nanohertz-frequency gravitational waves with pulsar timing arrays… or so we thought. This talk will discuss pulsar timing arrays and what our latest, most stringent limits on gravitational waves mean for galaxy evolution and supermassive binary black holes. I will also briefly discuss efforts to discover both gravitational and electromagnetic waves from binary supermassive black holes.