More computing power to search for continuous gravitational waves

Scientists at AEI Hannover win a large amount of computing time in competitive European call.

April 21, 2022

Members of the permanent independent research group “Continuous Gravitational Waves” at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics and Leibniz University Hannover, have been granted compute time by the Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE). Their proposal for an innovative search for continuous gravitational waves from unknown neutron stars was granted more than 10 million graphics processing unit core hours on the high-performance computing services offered by PRACE. The novel search will improve our knowledge about the population of neutron stars in the Milky Way and will be another step towards the first observation of the elusive continuous gravitational waves. First results from the search are expected in 2023.

“Observing continuous gravitational waves would allow us to discover neutron stars which would be entirely invisible to us in any other way,” says M. Alessandra Papa, who leads the permanent independent research group. “With the compute time our proposal has been granted we are taking one more step towards the first observation of continuous gravitational waves.”

The AEI researchers will use the PRACE computing resources to analyze public data from the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors. “Our goal is to search for continuous gravitational waves from unknown rotating neutron stars. We will search over the entire sky and over a wide range of source properties,” explains Pep Blai Covas Vidal, the lead scientist of the PRACE proposal and recent awardee of a Marie Skłodowska-Curie fellowship. “These searches are very compute-intensive – more than 10 million core hours on graphics processing units were granted by PRACE for our analyses.”

One of the world’s leading groups

Papa’s research group is one the world’s leading groups in the field of the yet-to-be-detected continuous gravitational waves. The international research team develops, improves, and conducts the deepest and most sensitive searches for these long lasting signals, which are expected from rapidly rotating neutron stars.

Neutron stars are extreme objects: These compact objects are formed in supernova explosions and typically have around 1.5 times the mass of our Sun, but are only about 20 kilometers in diameter – the size of a small city. Because the sky location, rotation rate, and other properties of the individual neutron stars are unknown, there is a large parameter space to search, and the sensitivity is limited by the amount of computing power available.

Unveiling the invisible population of Galactic neutron stars

While the Milky Way might contain about a hundred million neutron stars, only about 3300 have been detected so far. Gravitational waves might be the only way to unveil their vast majority and an invisible population of extreme objects.

“If we are very lucky, this new search enabled by the PRACE high-performance computing resources could result in the first direct detection of continuous gravitational waves,” explains Papa. “This would not only be an absolutely stunning discovery, it would also be our first step into a new territory where we could study the internal structure and composition of neutron stars through a new astronomical messenger,” she adds.

Join us on a journey into the depths of our Galaxy!

Continuous gravitational waves

Join us on a journey into the depths of our Galaxy!


The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) is an international non-profit association with its seat in Brussels. The PRACE Research Infrastructure provides a persistent world-class High-Performance Computing service for scientists and researchers from academia and industry in Europe. The computer systems and their operations accessible through PRACE are provided by five PRACE members (BSC representing Spain, CINECA representing Italy, ETH Zurich/CSCS representing Switzerland, GCS representing Germany and GENCI representing France). The Implementation Phase of PRACE receives funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme (2014-2020) under grant agreement 823767.

Other Interesting Articles

Go to Editor View