Type of project: observational astrophysics and computational astrophysics
Gravitational waves were discovered in 2016 by the LIGO experiment. The two discoveries were from binary black hole mergers. In the coming years LIGO will join forces with VIRGO (and the Japanese KAGRA) to extensively search for gravitational waves from exploding or colliding stars in nearby Universe. These large interferometers are based in the USA and Italy and have entered a new phase of sensitivity in 2016 and are expected to find merging neutron stars as well as black holes. These gravitational waves are ripples in space time that are detected in these remarkably precise laser experiments. However the next question for the astronomical and physics community is – what caused the burst of gravitational waves. In ARC, we have a formal agreement with the LIGO and VIRGO gravitational wave experiments to be notified immediately of their alerts. Our job is then to use our telescopes in Hawaii and Chile to search the sky for a signature in optical light of what could have caused this.
The IceCube detector at the south pole has discovered a population of high energy neutrinos that are now proven to be extraterrestrial in origin. The source of these neutrinos is not known, but supernovae or other exotic transients may be the cause. The same methods and hardware that we use to search for the EM counterparts to GW are now being used to search for supernovae coincident with IceCube detections.
We are experts in carrying out wide-field surveys with optical telescopes, searching for anything that flashes or moves. We are partners in the telescope projects Pan-STARRS (the PSST – see below) and ATLAS, both based in Hawaii. We search for supernovae, which are the explosions of massive stars or degenerate white dwarfs and are one of the world leading groups. We will point our telescopes at the areas of sky that contain gravitational wave signals and look for what might have caused it. Even if there are no gravitational wave transients reported, the PhD student will search through our current database for types of unusual transients that might be responsible. These are expected to be very fast transients – explosions or collisions that rise and fade over hours or days. The student will join our extensive team in searching for these exciting objects.
 Example of high profile paper from our supernova search (published in Nature)
 Pan-STARRS and PESSTO search for an optical counterpart to the LIGO gravitational-wave source GW150914]  [[http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/2016ApJ...827L..40S|A Search for an Optical Counterpart to the Gravitational-wave Event GW151226
 PESSTO : http://www.pessto.org
 ATLAS : http://fallingstar.com/home.php
 IceCube : https://icecube.wisc.edu/news/view/462
Supervisor: Prof Stephen Smartt