Amateur GW astronomy

Bikeman (Heinz-Bernd Eggenstein)
Bikeman (Heinz-...
Joined: 28 Aug 06
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Topic 193474

For the visual portion of the EM spectrum, amateur astronomers have been around for a long time and continue to make significant contributions to science. Amateur astronomers can make significant discoveries because of the fact that they outnumber the pros, and because the pros can't look everywhere in the sky at the same time.

So I just wonder: Will there ever be Gravitational Wave amateur astronomers??

At first glance, an obvious obstacle is the cost of building and maintaining your own laser interferometer :-). This is obviously not an option.

But you don't have to have your own. The GW observatories are more or less omnidirectional, and in the raw data that is acquired by them, there's all the information you need. So the "amateur GW astronomer" would use the data of the large GW observatories, provided they make this available to the public in a timely fashion.

For GW astronomy, focusing on a special region of the sky and a certain waveform to look for, is all done in software. While an all-sky search for unknown sources requires massive computing power (that's why Einstein@Home was invented), looking for a signal at a particular point in the sky with a certain waveform is within the reach of an individual PC (that's what the workunits on E@H are all about). So the amateur GW astronomer would probably focus on very specific potential sources, like newly discovered pulsars, Gamma Ray bursts, or whatever might be a hint to a candidate GW source. So the typical amateur GW astronomer would stay in close contact with rest of the astronomy community to get hints where to look for which type of signal.

While the "optical" amateur astronomer will take pride in building/perfecting optical instruments, the GW counterpart would most likely have some advanced mathematics background and some programming skills so that he/she could try to improve the analysis software.

Reality check:

Volume of raw data: For S5R3, the input data comes in pairs of files, h1_* and l1_*, preprocessed for certain frequency ranges with a resolution of 0.05 HZ. If the total frequency range is about 1500Hz, this means ~ 60,000 data files, each 3 MB in size, so there's a total of 180 GB of raw data for the S5 segment covered by S5R3. This would not take more space in the amateur GW astromer's bookshelf than my DVD collection of M*A*S*H :-). Feasible.

Computing power & Software: As E@H demonstrates, in principle a modern PC can perform the math needed to study gravitational waves, at least for some classes of waves. So the typical home of a GW amateur astromer would probably be heated by excess heat of a small cluster of relatively inexpensive computers.

Is there enough to look at? : After LIGO is fully enhanced and later on LISA becomes the first space based GW observatory, scientists expect to have lots of GW sources within the range of the observatories. Advanced LIGO alone is expected to discover several GW sources each month. The GW sky might not yet offer the wealth of the optical astronomy universe, but maybe still enough to keep a small amateur community busy.

So in genaral, I really think that amateuer GW astronomers will be around in the not-so-distant future, once we get to see the first confirmed sources by the professional astronomers. Maybe they will even use descendants of the Einstein@Home software.

What do you think? Might be too early to found a "Amateur GW Astronomers Society", but who knows.


Joined: 22 Jan 05
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Amateur GW astronomy

Good idea. But there is a long standing tradition of cooperation between professional optical astronomers and amateur astronomers. GW researchers are mostly physicists, and in physics there is no such a tradition. Maybe Einstein@home can start to change this.

Joined: 9 Feb 05
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I think that this may help to

I think that this may help to understand modern science for students in schools and universities and (who knows?) can become a way for some of students into "big science".

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