The University of the Virgin Islands is hosting a conference on astrophysics this week, looking at the newly-confirmed existence of gravitational waves sent across the universe when two black holes- bodies of such immense mass and density that no light can escape – collide.
Taking place June 5-9, the conference: “Generation-GW: Diving into Gravitational Waves,” is one of two astronomy conferences this summer sponsored by UVI’s College of Science and Mathematics and the Telemann Observatory. The second conference, “Unveiling the Physics Behind Extreme AGN Variability” will take place from July 11-14. Both conferences are on crucial astronomy breakthroughs over the last few years.
“We are establishing a legacy, and these events will improve the recruitment of Virgin Islands students to study physics and astronomy at UVI,” Antonino Cucchiara, assistant professor of physics said in a statement from UVI.
“The conferences will also demonstrate how research and activities undertaken at UVI can benefit the community,” he added.
Groups of astrophysicists from around the world are coming to talk at the June conference on gravitational waves, which are widely considered to be the greatest discovery so far of 21st century astronomy. This phenomenon describes ripples in the curvature of space-time that propagate outward from their source at the speed of light- the fastest speed anything can go. Light goes about 186,0000 miles per second. Their discovery confirms a 100 year old theory of Albert Einstein’s.
The other discovery to be discussed by more than 50 astronomers at the July conference is Fast Variable Active Galactic Nuclei. The center of every galaxy has a “super massive black hole”with the mass of millions of suns.When a star has more than about 10 times the mass of our sun, when its fuel runs out and fusion is no longer stoking the star’s fires, the gravity of all that mass will crush all the atoms down to a point were it all collapses into a point- a singularity. The gravity is so intense around it that at some point not even light can get out, if it gets too close. As matter falls into it, it speeds up, and is crushed. As the matter falls, it spins faster and faster, forming a disk that heats up to unimaginable temperatures, producing energy that is observable in optical, X-ray, gamma-ray radiation.
Most or all galaxies have really big black holes at their center. Our galaxy; the Milky Way galaxy, has one named Sagittarius A* that is about four million times the mass of the sun. How these supermassive black holes came to be is still being debated.
Some galaxies have little activity- nothing is falling in for long stretches of time- they are inactive. Some have constant activity- a regular disk that constantly radiates intense energy. And some are variable. The July conference will focus on Fast Variable AGNs, which radiation changes quickly in time and are therefore difficult to observe in detail.
Both conferences are only open to paid registrant due to space limitations. There will, however, be a specific talk designed for public-access to be held at UVI’s ACC (Administration and Conference Center) on Thursday June 8th at 7 p.m. Admission is free and open to everyone.