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Texas Tech scientists in collaboration with 190 other scientists from the United States and Canada have been researching gravitational waves for years have made a huge discovery for space.

According to a press release on Thursday, astrophysicists using large radio telescopes that have been observing a collection of "cosmic clocks" have now found "evidence for gravitational waves that oscillate with periods of years to decades". The signal was observed in 15 years of data.

“We have strong evidence for a gravitational wave signal, possibly produced by many supermassive black hole binary systems orbiting one another,” Romano said. “This is a qualitatively different type of gravitational-wave signal than what has been seen by other gravitational-wave detectors.”

Unlike the fleeting high-frequency gravitational waves seen by ground-based instruments like LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory), this continuous low-frequency signal could be perceived only with a detector much larger than the Earth. To meet this need, astronomers turned our sector of the Milky Way Galaxy into a huge gravitational-wave antenna by making use of exotic stars called pulsars. NANOGrav’s 15-year effort collected data from 68 pulsars to form a type of detector called a pulsar timing array.

“This is the first evidence for gravitational waves at very low frequencies,” said Vanderbilt University’s Dr. Stephen Taylor, who co-led the search and is the chair of the collaboration.  “After years of work, NANOGrav is opening an entirely new window on the gravitational-wave universe."

A pulsar is the ultra-dense remnant of a massive star's core following its demise in a supernova explosion. Pulsars spin rapidly, sweeping beams of radio waves through space so they appear to “pulse” when seen from the Earth. The fastest of these objects, called millisecond pulsars, spin hundreds of times each second. Their pulses are very stable, making them useful as precise cosmic timepieces.

The group of scientist from Texas Tech included Joseph Romano, a professor in the Physics and Astronomy Department and Nipuni Palliyaguru, a post-doctoral research fellow in the same department. Palliyaguru said in a press release that discoveries "like this allow us to continue learning about the universe. NANOGrav is an incredible collaboration with dedicated scientists who are committed to this work, and I’m happy to see these results coming out.”

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