In 2015, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the Virgo Collaboration announced the first-ever detection of gravitational waves from the merger of a pair of stellar-mass black holes about 1.5 billion light-years away. This signal, dubbed GW150914, marked the beginning of the era of gravitational wave astronomy; the field has exploded in the three years since, with five more black hole mergers announced, the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to three founders of the LIGO project, and the first detection of a merger of neutron stars in August 2017. This latter event, GW170817, was simultaneously observed by traditional electromagnetic telescopes; over 45 papers were released with the announcement of its discovery, coauthored by more than 4,000 authors, or about 1/3 of the global community of astronomers.
The field of gravitational wave astronomy is intensely computational, from the data analysis needed to conduct these observations to the theoretical modeling needed to understand their implications for astrophysics. Much of this computation is performed “traditionally” by millions of lines of C and FORTRAN running on large supercomputing clusters, but, fittingly for such a “young” field, Project Jupyter and other projects under the NumFOCUS umbrella play a vital and growing role in the production and dissemination of results.
Will Farr shares examples of Jupyter use within the LIGO and Virgo Scientific Collaborations and offers lessons about the (many) advantages and (few) disadvantages of Jupyter for large, global scientific collaborations. Along the way, Will speculates on Jupyter’s future role in gravitational wave astronomy.
Will Farr is an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Stony Brook University and the Gravitational Wave Astronomy Group leader at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astronomy. A theoretical astrophysicist with interests in astrostatistics, the gravitational dynamics of exoplanets and dense stellar systems, gravitational waves, compact object evolution, computational astrophysics, and general relativity, Will is also an enthusiastic programming language polyglot and has contributed software to many astronomical projects. You can find him as farr on GitHub.
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