Research Fellows Directory
Dr Stephen Fairhurst
Gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time, were predicted by Albert Einstein shortly after his development of general relativity. Gravitational waves are formed by accelerating masses, and are typically produced in regions of the universe with strong gravitational fields. Thus, detection of gravitational waves would allow us to probe regions of strong gravity, such as black holes, cores of supernovae and gamma ray burst engines, which may not be visible to optical telescopes. No direct observation of gravitational waves has yet been made although, in 1993, Hulse and Taylor were awarded the Nobel Prize for their indirect observation of gravitational waves. They observed a binary star system which is slowly spiraling together, as it loses energy through gravitational radiation, at precisely the rate predicted by general relativity.
A global network of gravitational wave detectors have been constructed in an attempt to directly detect gravitational waves. I lead the search for gravitational waves from the merger of black holes and/or neutron stars. Analysis of the most recent data from these detectors revealed evidence of the elusive signal from a neutron star spiraling into a black hole. Shortly after the collaboration approved a scientific paper reporting the ground-breaking "discovery",it was revealed that the signal was a "blind injection" --- a fake signal secretly added to the data to test the detector and analysis. While we were disappointed that the discovery was not real (we knew that it could be a blind injection), the success of the analysis was a compelling demonstration of the collaboration's readiness to detect gravitational waves. We are now looking forward to observations with the advanced detectors which are expected to contain many real signals from the distant reaches of the universe.
Interests and expertise (Subject groups)