Simulated Gravitational Wave All-Sky Image

  • Released Wednesday, September 20, 2023

Watch as gravitational waves from a simulated population of compact binary systems combine into a synthetic map of the entire sky. Such systems contain white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes in tight orbits. Maps like this using real data will be possible once space-based gravitational wave observatories become active in the next decade. The center of our Milky Way galaxy lies at the center of this all-sky view, with the galactic plane extending across the middle. Brighter spots indicate sources with stronger signals and lighter colors indicate those with higher frequencies. Larger colored patches show sources whose positions are less well known. The inset shows the frequency and strength of the gravitational signal, as well as the sensitivity limit for LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna), an observatory now being designed by ESA (European Space Agency) in collaboration with NASA for launch in the 2030s.

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

Music: "Shadowless" from Universal Production Music

Watch this video on the NASA.gov Video YouTube channel.

Complete transcript available.

Astronomers using simulated data have produced a glimpse of the sky as it would appear in gravitational waves, cosmic ripples in space-time generated by orbiting objects. The image shows how space-based gravitational wave observatories expected to launch in the next decade will enhance our understanding of our galactic home.

Since 2015, ground-based observatories have detected about a hundred events representing the mergers of systems that pair stellar-mass black holes, neutron stars, or both. The signals typically last less than a minute, have relatively low frequencies, can appear anywhere in the sky, and their sources lie far beyond our galaxy.

Binary systems also fill the Milky Way, and astronomers expect many of them to contain compact objects like white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes in tight orbits. But to "hear" their gravitational waves requires a space-based observatory because their frequencies are too low for ground-based detectors.

Astronomers call these systems UCBs (ultracompact binaries), and they expect that future observatories like LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna), which is led by ESA (European Space Agency) in collaboration with NASA, will detect tens of thousands of them. UCBs are typically difficult to spot – they are usually faint in visible light, and astronomers currently know of only a handful with orbital periods shorter than an hour. Discovering many new UCBs is one of LISAs main objectives.

Using data simulating the expected distribution and gravitational wave signals of these systems, the Goddard team developed a way to combine the data into an all-sky view of the galaxy’s UCBs.

This image is directly analogous to an all-sky view of the sky in a particular type of light, such as visible, infrared, or X-rays. The promise of gravitational waves is that they offer astronomers a way to observe the universe in a totally different way, something this image really brings home.

GIF version of above.Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

GIF version of above.

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

All-sky video only.

Gravitational waves from a simulated population of compact binary systems combine into a synthetic map of the entire sky. Such systems contain white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes in tight orbits. The center of our Milky Way galaxy lies at the center of this all-sky view, with the galactic plane extending across the middle. Maps like this using real data will be possible once space-based gravitational wave observatories become active in the next decade. Brighter spots indicate sources with stronger signals and lighter colors indicate those with higher frequencies. Larger colored patches show sources whose positions are less well known.

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

This animated graph plots the frequency and the signal strength of gravitational waves from a simulated dataset of galactic ultracompact binaries. Colors indicate frequencies between about 0.001 and 0.01 hertz, with lighter colors representing higher frequencies. The dashed curve represents the expected sensitivity limit of the LISA (Laser Interferometer Space Antenna) mission now being designed by ESA (European Space Agency) in collaboration with NASA for launch in the 2030s.

Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

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Please give credit for this item to:
NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. However, individual items should be credited as indicated above.

Release date

This page was originally published on Wednesday, September 20, 2023.
This page was last updated on Wednesday, September 20, 2023 at 12:37 PM EDT.



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