First board meeting of new Gravitational Physics Division

By . Published on 20 July 2017 in:
2017, News, , , ,

The past 18 months have seen a coming of age for gravity research. In February last year, the LIGO Virgo collaboration announced the first direct detection of gravitational waves from the merger of two massive black holes more than a billion light years away. This tremendous experimental achievement has been followed by the discovery of two further binary black hole mergers by the LIGO observatories, marking the birth of gravitational wave astronomy, with the Virgo observatory in Italy expected to join in the hunt in the coming months. At the same time, gravity plays a central role in some of the outstanding theoretical challenges in theoretical physics, from cosmological dark energy to the black hole information paradox.

Earlier this year, EPS Council approved the creation of a new Gravitational Physics Division with the aim of raising the profile and cohesion of gravitational physics in European research. The new board held their first meeting at the EPS headquarters in Mulhouse on the 15th June, chaired by Prof Mairi Sakellariadou from Kings College London. They discussed plans for an inaugural European Conference on Gravitational Physics next year, with speakers from across the European gravity community and beyond. There are already active national gravity groups in several European nations and the new EPS division hopes to work with them to share information and expertise, presenting a European voice for the community, while at the same time encouraging the formation of new bodies in countries which do not currently have a national group. Recent discoveries provide an opportunity to promote physics in the wider community, sharing the excitement of the research and scientific endeavour behind the newspaper headlines. We must also promote diversity and opportunity within our research community.

Gravitational physics looks set for a golden age of discovery. The CNES/ONERA/ESA Microscope satellite, to test the equivalence between gravitational and inertial mass, has been successfully launched and is now taking data. Following the highly successful LISA Pathfinder mission, which ended on 30th June, the European Space Agency has selected the space-based laser interferometer, LISA, for its third large class mission, due for launch in 2034. This promises to see gravitational wave signals from supermassive black holes at the centre of distant galaxies. There are also plans for a next generation of ground-based detectors reaching unprecedented sensitivities, overcoming current limitations imposed by thermal noise and quantum-optical noise. While many European scientists have played leading roles in recent discoveries, there will be important decisions to be made in the coming years which will shape future gravitational research and it is important that European scientists be heard.

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