Neutron Star Extreme Matter Observatory (NEMO) – Building a $100M Black Hole Detector

Artist’s depiction of a black hole about to swallow a neutron star.
Credit: Carl Knox, OzGrav ARC Centre of Excellence

A new study makes a compelling case for the development of “NEMO”—a new observatory in Australia that could deliver on some of the most exciting gravitational-wave science next-generation detectors have to offer, but at a fraction of the cost.

The study, co-authored by the ARC Center of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav), coincides with an Astronomy Decadal Plan mid-term review by Australian Academy of Sciences where “NEMO” is identified as a priority goal.

“Gravitational-wave astronomy is reshaping our understanding of the Universe,” said one of the study’s lead authors OzGrav Chief Investigator Paul Lasky, from Monash University.

“Neutron stars are an end state of stellar evolution,” he said. “They consist of the densest observable matter in the Universe, and are believed to consist of a superfluid, superconducting core of matter at supranuclear densities. Such conditions are impossible to produce in the laboratory, and theoretical modeling of the matter requires extrapolation by many orders of magnitude beyond the point where nuclear physics is well understood.”

The study presents the design concept and science case for a Neutron Star Extreme Matter Observatory (NEMO): a gravitational-wave interferometer optimized to study nuclear physics with merging neutron stars.

The concept uses high circulating laser power, quantum squeezing and a detector topology specially designed to achieve the high frequency sensitivity necessary to probe nuclear matter using gravitational waves.

The study acknowledges that third-generation observatories require substantial, global financial investment and significant technological development over many years.
According to Monash Ph.D. candidate Francisco Hernandez Vivanco, who also worked on the study, the recent transformational discoveries were only the tip of the iceberg of what the new field of gravitational-wave astronomy could potentially achieve.

“To reach its full potential, new detectors with greater sensitivity are required,” Francisco said.
“The global community of gravitational-wave scientists is currently designing the so called ‘third-generation gravitational-wave detectors (we are currently in the second generation of detectors; the first generation were the prototypes that got us where we are today).”

Third-generation detectors will increase the sensitivity achieved by a factor of 10, detecting every black hole merger throughout the Universe, and most of the neutron star collisions.

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