NEW YORK – NASA has named Priyamvada Natarajan, an Indian American-origin professor of astronomy and physics at Yale University, to lend her expertise on gravitational waves and astrophysics for the upcoming mission, LISA, which stands for Laser Interferometer Space Antenna, according to a YaleNews report.
According to the report, LISA is a space-based, gravitational wave observatory that will be composed of three spacecrafts which will be separated by millions of miles; the mission is scheduled for the early 2030s and is a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency, and the LISA consortium.
Natarajan is also a member of the NASA LISA Study Team.
“The detection of gravitational waves in 2015 by the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) collaboration is one of the major scientific breakthroughs of this century. The tremors they identified in space-time, produced by the collision of two stellar-mass black holes, was extremely challenging to detect. The more massive cousins of these black holes are supermassive black holes that reside in the centers of most, if not all, galaxies,” Natarajan told YaleNews.
Natarajan explained to YaleNews that supermassive black holes are likely to have been built up by mergers as “the cosmic earthquakes produced during these collisions cannot be detected from the Earth and require a LIGO-like interferometer in space as these events will be detectable at much lower frequencies.” she said.
“The LISA mission plans to detect these gravitational waves from space-based detectors. The mission will test our fundamental understanding of how supermassive black holes form and grow,” she added.
According to the YaleNews report, Natarajan’s research focuses on understanding the formation of the first black holes and the accumulation of mass in the most massive black holes in the universe.
“We currently believe that black holes grow both via direct consumption of gas and stars in their vicinity, as well as via mergers with other black holes. The detection of gravitational waves from colliding supermassive black holes by LISA would validate and calibrate the relative importance of mergers versus accretion,” Natarajan told YaleNews.
“My research group at Yale is extremely active and we are working at the leading edge of these questions combining theoretical models, numerical simulations, and the most up-to-date multi-wavelength observations,” she added.
Natarajan’s research into black holes was also prominently featured in an episode called “Black Hole Apocalypse” in the PBS science documentary series “NOVA,” on Jan. 10, according to the YaleNews report.