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Picture of the Day

Could gravitational waves reveal how fast our universe is expanding?

Since it first exploded into existence 13.8 billion years ago, the universe has been expanding, dragging along with it hundreds of billions of galaxies and stars, much like raisins in a rapidly rising dough. Astronomers have pointed telescopes to certain stars and other cosmic sources to measure their distance from Earth and how fast they are moving away from us -- two parameters that are essential to estimating the Hubble constant, a unit of measurement that describes the rate at which the universe is expanding. But to date, the most precise efforts have landed on very different values of the Hubble constant, offering no definitive resolution to exactly how fast the universe is growing. This information, scientists believe, could shed light on the universe's origins, as well as its fate, and whether the cosmos will expand indefinitely or ultimately collapse. Now, National Science Foundation-funded scientists have proposed a more accurate and independent way to measure the Hubble constant, using gravitational waves emitted by a relatively rare system: a black hole-neutron star binary, a hugely energetic pairing of a spiraling black hole and a neutron star. As these objects circle in toward each other, they should produce space-shaking gravitational waves and a flash of light when they ultimately collide.

Visit Website | Image credit: A. Tonita, L. Rezzolla, F. Pannarale/MIT