Physical Review D selects two papers by Alessandra Buonanno for its “50th anniversary milestones”

Two publications on the effective one-body approach among the collection of pioneering papers

January 18, 2021

In 2020, the scientific journal Physical Review D celebrated its 50th anniversary. Its editors are assembling milestone publications which pioneered new avenues of research from all fields of physics covered by the journal. Two publications from 1999 and 2000 authored by Alessandra Buonanno and Thibault Damour are among those selected, as well as two papers on GW150914, the first direct detection of gravitational waves in 2015.

“The papers I published with Thibault Damour more than 20 years ago introduced a novel approach to study the two-body problem in General Relativity, and they are playing a crucial role in today’s age of gravitational-wave astronomy,” explains Alessandra Buonanno, director at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam and professor at the University of Maryland. “The effective one-body theory is at the heart of several waveform models used to discover gravitational waves with LIGO and Virgo detectors, and unveil the properties of their sources,” she adds.

The effective one-body approach

Prof. Dr. Alessandra Buonanno

In 1999 and 2000, Buonanno and Damour published two papers titled “Effective one-body approach to general relativistic two-body dynamics” and “Transition from inspiral to plunge in binary black hole coalescences” which according to Physical Review D “initiated a program that continues to be vigorously pursued to the present day and remains one of the few analytical approaches to the increasingly relevant problem of experimental detection of gravitational radiation from astrophysical binary coalescences.”

The effective one-body approach described in the two papers provided the first, approximate analytical waveform emitted during the inspiral, merger, and ringdown stages of a binary black-hole coalescence. Since 2006, the effective-one-body framework has been improved and completed with information from numerical-relativity simulations, and has produced highly precise waveform models, which today are used routinely by LIGO and Virgo detectors.

An important tool for gravitational-wave astronomy

Methods pioneered by Buonanno and Damour are now used to discover gravitational waves from merging binary systems, infer their astrophysical and cosmological properties, and test gravity in the strong and dynamical regime.

The Physical Review D editors also selected two papers on GW150914, the first direct detection of gravitational waves, because they “explain the necessary and painstaking work done to interpret the raw signal from the finely tuned detectors as arising from the merger of binary black holes of definite mass” and because they “established for the first time the existence of gravitational waves and the occurrence of astrophysical black-hole binary mergers”. A significant fraction of these papers’ authors is from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam and Hannover.

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