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Led by new GWPAC faculty member Geoffrey Lovelace, CSUF students Evan Foley, Matt Giesler, and Iv├ín Ozaeta have begun learning to use the Spectral Einstein Code (SpEC) to simulate colliding black holes. 

Simulating black hole mergers

Initial data for two spinning black holes that will fall together from rest and collide head-on. Each hole spins about its center on an axis parallel to the green line. The black-hole horizons are shown, colored by their shape: they are not spherical but bulge in the red regions and are squashed in the blue regions. Figure courtesy Evan Foley.



Colliding black holes are among the most promising sources of gravitational waves for detectors like LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory). Numerical simulations are the only known way to predict the gravitational waves emitted when two black holes spiral together and merge, leaving behind a final, larger black hole. 

For their first test problem, Foley, Giesler, and Ozaeta are simulating the simpler case of two spinning black holes that start from rest and collide head-on. So far, each student has started a test simulation, and they already have partial results that they are analyzing and visualizing. The experience they gain with these test simulations will lead them to future research exploring the inspiral and merger of spinning black holes in configurations that have never before been simulated. 

The gravitational waves predicted by these simulations will then contribute to a large catalog of waves from colliding black holes that LIGO might observe; this catalog will help LIGO scientists to find actual gravitational-wave signals from colliding black holes, which will be hidden within noisy detector data.