Visible light search for gravitational waves black hole merger comes up empty

The Blanco Telescope located at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory, Chile(Credit: Fermilab)

Last week an international team of scientists announced that they had made history by directly detecting gravitational waves. In light of those findings, a second team has attempted to detect the burst of visible light given off by the source of the waves – two merging black holes. The results were disappointing, but could help future attempts at imaging the source of gravitational waves.

Gravitational waves were first theorized as a part of Einstein's theory of general relativity in 1916, and astronomers had been searching for them ever since. On Sept. 14, 2015, twin state of the art interferometry observatories known as LIGO finally detected the phenomena.

Encoded in the waves are the vital characteristics of the source of the gravitational event, including its mass, size, and the general direction from which they emanated. Therefore by analyzing the wave picked up by the observatories, astronomers could narrow down their search area in the hunt for the visible light component of the chaotic event.

Over the course of a three-week period, the astronomers made use of the 3 square-degree Dark Energy Camera mounted on the 4-m (13-ft) Blanco telescope located at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile, to survey an impressive 700 square degrees of sky – the equivalent of 2,800 full Moons.

Unfortunately, the team was unable to locate the burst of light emitted by the merging black holes. Whilst the search was ultimately a failure, it will have the effect of aiding future efforts to achieve a dual observation of a gravity wave and the visible light burst by serving as a model to be improved upon.

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