Month: September 2017

New gravity wave detection signals collision of two dead stars

For the first time, scientists have directly detected gravitational waves — ripples in space-time — in addition to light from the spectacular collision of two neutron stars. This marks the first time that a cosmic event has been viewed in both gravitational waves and light.

The discovery was made using the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO); the Europe-based Virgo detector; and some 70 ground- and space-based observatories.

Neutron stars are the smallest, densest stars known to exist and are formed when massive stars explode in supernovas. As these neutron stars spiraled together, they emitted gravitational waves that were detectable for about 100 seconds; when they collided, a flash of light in the form of gamma rays was emitted and seen on Earth about two seconds after the gravitational waves. In the days and weeks following the smashup, other forms of light, or electromagnetic radiation — including X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio waves — were detected.

GW+EM Observatories Map

GW170817: A Global Astronomy Event

The observations have given astronomers an unprecedented opportunity to probe a collision of two neutron stars. For example, observations made by the U.S. Gemini Observatory, the European Very Large Telescope, and the Hubble Space Telescope reveal signatures of recently synthesized material, including gold and platinum, solving a decades-long mystery of where about half of all elements heavier than iron are produced.

The LIGO-Virgo results are published today in the journal Physical Review Letters; additional papers from the LIGO and Virgo collaborations and the astronomical community have been either submitted or accepted for publication in various journals.

“It is tremendously exciting to experience a rare event that transforms our understanding of the workings of the universe,” says France A. Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation (NSF), which funds LIGO. “This discovery realizes a long-standing goal many of us have had, that is, to simultaneously observe rare cosmic events using both traditional as well as gravitational-wave observatories. Only through NSF’s four-decade investment in gravitational-wave observatories, coupled with telescopes that observe from radio to gamma-ray wavelengths, are we able to expand our opportunities to detect new cosmic phenomena and piece together a fresh narrative of the physics of stars in their death throes.”

Written by Jennifer Chu, MIT News Office, full text of original article available here on the LIGO web site.

Job opening: Senior Machine Shop Engineer

The Department of Physics, in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, seeks qualified applicants for the position of Senior Machine Shop Engineer (UCP 8). The Department of Physics machine shop supports the teaching and research missions of the department through the design, building, and implementation of sophisticated experimental apparatus, and in the training and supervising of faculty, staff, and students who use the shop. Continue reading

Landmark g-2 experiment begins second phase in long career of testing the Standard Model

Instead of directly searching for new particles as the LHC experiments are doing in Geneva, the muon g-2 experiment at Fermilab measures a well-known physical property of the muon to ever greater precision, looking for deviations from the value it should have based on the Standard Model of particle physics, assuming that no new forces or particles are in play. UConn theorists Tom Blum and Luchang Jin are contributing to this effort by reducing the theoretical uncertainty on the Standard Model prediction to match the anticipated experimental precision.

The Muon g-2 experiment has begun its search for phantom particles with its world-famous and well-traveled electromagnet.

The Muon g-2 ring with instrumentationThe Muon g-2 ring with instrumentation, awaiting muons at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. Credit: Fermilab

What do you get when you revive a beautiful 20-year-old physics machine, carefully transport it 3,200 miles over land and sea to its new home, and then use it to probe strange happenings in a magnetic field? Hopefully you get new insights into the elementary particles that make up everything. The Muon g-2 experiment, located at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, has begun its quest for those insights. On May 31, the 50-foot-wide superconducting electromagnet at the center of the experiment saw its first beam of muon particles from Fermilab’s accelerators, kicking off a three-year effort to measure just what happens to those particles when placed in a stunningly precise magnetic field. The answer could rewrite scientists’ picture of the universe and how it works.

“The Muon g-2 experiment’s first beam truly signals the start of an important new research program at Fermilab, one that uses muon particles to look for rare and fascinating anomalies in nature,” said Fermilab Director Nigel Lockyer. “After years of preparation, I’m excited to see this experiment begin its search in earnest.”

Getting to this point was a long road for Muon g-2, both figuratively and literally. The first generation of this experiment took place at the U.S. DOE’s Brookhaven National Laboratory in New York State in the late 1990s and early 2000s. The goal of the experiment was to precisely measure one property of the muon – the particles’ precession, or wobble, in a magnetic field. The final results were surprising, hinting at the presence of previously unknown phantom particles or forces affecting the muon’s properties.

Video depicting the first leg of the g-2 electromagnet’s 3,200-mile journey from Brookhaven to Fermilab

The new experiment at Fermilab will make use of the laboratory’s intense beam of muons to definitively answer the questions the Brookhaven experiment raised. And since it would have cost 10 times more to build a completely new machine at Brookhaven rather than move the magnet to Fermilab, the Muon g-2 team transported that large, fragile superconducting magnet in one piece from Long Island to the suburbs of Chicago in the summer of 2013.

The magnet took a barge south around Florida, up the Tennessee-Tombigbee waterway and the Illinois River, and was then driven on a specially designed truck over three nights to Fermilab. And thanks to a GPS-powered map online, it collected thousands of fans over its journey, making it one of the most well-known electromagnets in the world.

“Getting the magnet here was only half the battle,” said Chris Polly, project manager of the Muon g-2 experiment. “Since it arrived, the team here at Fermilab has been working around the clock installing detectors, building a control room and, for the past year, adjusting the uniformity of the magnetic field, which must be precisely known to an unprecedented level to obtain any new physics. It’s been a lot of work, but we’re ready now to really get started.”

That work has included the creation of a new beamline to deliver a pure beam of muons to the ring, the installation of a host of instrumentation to measure both the magnetic field and the muons as they circulate within it, and a year-long process of “shimming” the magnet, inserting tiny pieces of metal by hand to shape the magnetic field. The field created by the magnet is now three times more uniform than the one it created at Brookhaven.

The Muon g-2 electromagnet arriving at Fermilab

The Muon g-2 electromagnet arriving at Fermilab in July 2013 after a 3,200-mile journey from Brookhaven National Laboratory. Credit: Fermilab

Over the next few weeks the Muon g-2 team will test the equipment installed around the magnet, which will be storing and measuring muons for the first time in 16 years. Later this year, they will start taking science-quality data, and if their results confirm the anomaly first seen at Brookhaven, it will mean that the elegant picture of the universe that scientists have been working on for decades is incomplete, and that new particles or forces may be out there, waiting to be discovered.

“It’s an exciting time for the whole team, and for physics,” said David Hertzog of the University of Washington, co-spokesperson of the Muon g-2 collaboration. “The magnet has been working, and working fantastically well. It won’t be long until we have our first results, and a better view through the window that the Brookhaven experiment opened for us.”

The Muon g-2 collaboration includes more than 150 scientists and engineers from more than 30 institutions in nine countries.

Learn more about the Muon g-2 experiment. Take a 360-degree tour of the Muon g-2 experiment hall.

The Muon g-2 experiment is supported by DOE’s Office of Science and the National Science Foundation.

Fermilab Media Contact

  • Andre Salles, Fermilab Office of Communication, 630-840-6733,

Science contacts

  • David Hertzog, Muon g-2 collaboration co-spokesperson, University of Washington, 206-543-0839,
  • Chris Polly, Muon g-2 project manager, Fermilab, 630-840-2552,
  • B. Lee Roberts, Muon g-2 collaboration co-spokesperson, Boston University, 791-799-7483,

Fermilab is America’s premier national laboratory for particle physics research. A U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science laboratory, Fermilab is located near Chicago, Illinois, and operated under contract by the Fermi Research Alliance LLC. Visit Fermilab’s website and follow us on Twitter @Fermilab.

Brookhaven National Laboratory and Fermilab are supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.  For more information, please visit the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy’s website.