Vanderbilt astrophysicist Karan Jani has led a series of studies that make the first case for a gravitational wave infrastructure on the surface of the moon. The experiment, dubbed Gravitational-Wave Lunar Observatory for Cosmology, uses the moon’s environment and geocentric orbit to analyze mergers of black holes, neuron stars and dark matter candidates within almost 70 percent of the entire observable volume of the universe, he said.
“By tapping into the natural conditions on the moon, we showed that one of the most challenging spectrum of gravitational wavesGravitational waves are distortions or ripples in the fabric of space and time. They were first detected in 2015 by the Advanced LIGO detectors and are produced by catastrophic events such as colliding black holes, supernovae, or merging neutron stars.”>gravitational waves can be measured better from the lunar surface, which so far seems impossible from Earth or space,” Jani said.
Why It Matters
“The moon offers an ideal backdrop for the ultimate gravitational wave observatory, since it lacks an atmosphere and noticeable seismic noise, which we must mitigate at great cost for laser interferometers on Earth,” said Avi Loeb, professor of science at Harvard University and bestselling author of books about black holes, the first stars, the search for extraterrestrial life and the future of the universe. “A lunar observatory would provide unprecedented sensitivity for discovering sources that we do not anticipate and that could inform us of new physics. GLOC could be the jewel in the crown of science on the surface of the moon.”
This work comes as NASAEstablished in 1958, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is an independent agency of the United States Federal Government that succeeded the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). It is responsible for the civilian space program, as well as aeronautics and aerospace research. It’s vision is “To discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.””>NASA revives its Artemis program, which aims to send the first woman and the next man to the moon as early as 2024. Ongoing commercial work by aerospace companies, including SpaceXCommonly known as SpaceX, Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is a private American aerospace manufacturer and space transportation services company that was founded by Elon Musk in 2002. Headquartered in Hawthorne, California, the company designs, manufactures, and launches advanced rockets and spacecraft.”>SpaceX and BlueOrigin, also has added to the momentum behind planning for ambitious scientific infrastructure on the surface of the moon.
“In the coming years, we hope to develop a pathfinder mission on the moon to test the technologies of GLOC,” Jani said. “Unlike space missions that last only a few years, the great investment benefit of GLOC is it establishes a permanent base on the moon from where we can study the universe for generations, quite literally the entirety of this century.” Currently the observatory is theoretical, with Jani and Loeb receiving a strong endorsement from the international gravitational-wave community.
“It was a great privilege to collaborate with an innovative young thinker like Karan Jani,” Loeb said. “He may live long enough to witness the project come to fruition.”
Reference: “Gravitational-wave Lunar Observatory for Cosmology” by K. Jani and A. Loeb, 24 June 2021, Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.
The work was funded by the Stevenson Chair endowment funds at Vanderbilt University and the Black Hole Initiative at Harvard University, which is funded by grants from the John Templeton Foundation and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.