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Gravitational wave astrophysics

With the first detections of gravitational waves with Advanced LIGO a fact, with pulsar timing arrays approaching astrophysically interesting limits, and with the choice by ESA for 'The Gravitational Universe' as its theme for its L3 mission, gravitational wave astrophysics will be the hot topic in astrophysics in the next decade(s). We are an institutional partner in the Virgo collaboration and strongly involved in the discovery and interpretation of GW150914.

Our ambition

Our aim is to be a leading institute in the astronomical use of gravitational waves, i.e. the use of gravitational waves to understand their sources and the environments in which they originate. We lead the BlackGEM array for the detection of optical counterparts. We are involved in the LOFAR and MeerKAT radio arrays and lead the MeerLICHT project. Combining these initiatives with theory and modelling, we place ourselves in the midst of the action. Nelemans is the NL scientific lead on the LISA mission. There is strong interest in the Department to try and get the Einstein Telescope in the Netherlands, where Radboud could be the scientific/astrophysics centre, being closest to the proposed Dutch site.

Research questions to be addressed are:

  • What is the population of gravitational sources detected with Advanced LIGO/Virgo?
  • Can we detect the electromagnetic counterparts to conduct a combined GW/EM analysis?
  • How do properties and rates of GW events constrain our understanding of massive star evolution? •
  • What is the Galactic population of binaries to be seen in the eLISA mission?
  • Do intermediate mass black holes exist and can we see them merge?
  • Can primordial gravitational waves be detected with pulsar timing arrays?

Use is made of binary population modelling, stellar evolution codes, observations with LIGO/Virgo and, in particular, the BlackGEM array as well as MeerKAT/MeerLICHT.

Goals for the next six years

  • Detect the electromagnetic counterparts of gravitational wave merger events
  • Study the population of merger events in a combined analysis of GW+EM data
  • Connect the population of gravitational wave merger events to massive (binary) star evolution
  • Understand the population of low-frequency gravitational wave emitters in our Milky Way Galaxy
  • Build, operate, exploit and expand BlackGEM to cover ~40 square degrees instantaneously

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