News 2020: Gaurav Khanna awarded $75K for black hole research
Gaurav Khanna awarded $75K for black hole research

Dr. Khanna’s research sheds light on many different aspects of black hole physics.

Image of merging black holes courtesy of LIGO
Image of merging black holes (courtesy of LIGO)

Black holes are perhaps the most mysterious astrophysical objects in the universe. The National Science Foundation (NSF) has awarded Professor Gaurav Khanna of the Physics department a $75,393 grant for his project "Studies of Black Hole Binary Systems Using Time-Domain Perturbation Theory". This newly funded NSF project continues the development of the model that Dr. Khanna has been building for well over a decade on gravitational waves.

Gravitational waves, predicted by Albert Einstein's general relativity theory 100 years ago, are “ripples” in the fabric of space-time that travel at the speed of light. LIGO made the first-ever direct detection of a gravitational wave signal from a binary system of two, near 30-solar-mass black holes located over a billion light-years away.  In 2016, gravitational waves became directly observable due to the enormous investment in hardware, theory, and data analysis methods, into the National Science Foundation’s LIGO laboratory.

The founders of LIGO were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. Since then several other detections have been made, more detectors have become operational, and the future space-borne observatory plans may be accelerated. The strongest sources of this radiation are the mergers of highly massive and compact astrophysical objects, such as black holes and neutron stars.

Dr. Khanna’s research makes use of Einstein’s general relativity theory to estimate properties of the gravitational waves produced by one of their strongest sources -- the collision and merger of two black holes. “This is very important to the success of the above-mentioned observatories because theory-based, waveform templates are required to develop a matched-filter for successful detection of these waves,” says Khanna.

A black hole merger is an extremely complex process, even from the point of view of numerical simulations on the largest supercomputers, therefore Dr. Khanna uses various approximation techniques (black hole perturbation theory) to simplify this problem significantly and make it more tractable. Khanna works closely with collaborators at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics and MIT, and locally with Dr. Scott Field and Dr. Sigal Gottlieb at UMass Dartmouth and contributes to this major modeling effort.  

“Once this project is completed, it will not only improve signal searches for LIGO data, but also make progress towards the data analysis goals relevant to the upcoming space-borne LISA mission,” he says. Khanna’s black hole research breakthroughs have been noted in The Conversation, The International Business Times, Forbes and The New York Times.