“Mind the Mass Gap”

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The Story

“Mind the Mass Gap”
by Sumeet Kulkarni
Scientific American, October 28, 2019

The Pitch

Dear Mike,

I would like to pitch a Scientific American guest essay to comment on a very recent detection of a previously unseen source of gravitational waves by the LIGO-Virgo observatories.

Missing Black Holes: Can Gravitational Waves help us fill in the gap?

There is a puzzling gap between the weight categories of the universe’s heavyweight objects: neutron stars and black holes. No compact object has ever been detected that weighs between 3 and 5 times the mass of the Sun. Scientists believe this apparent gap in masses between the heaviest neutron star and the lightest black hole ever seen should be occupied by previously unseen lightweight black-holes. On the other hand, if it actually turns out to be a void, it would help us probe exciting new physics of stellar evolution. Starting April this year, all eyes were set on the newly upgraded gravitational wave observatories to help us find whether any objects exist in the mass-gap – and the third observing run of the LIGO-Virgo observatories has not disappointed! With a promising detection in August that was re-analyzed to be a different kind of source, followed by a stronger mass-gap detection just last week (September 24th), it has been a topsy-turvy ride in the quest to solve this puzzle.

I intend to explain what these mass-gap objects are by presenting a story that weaves through the setbacks and success of how these recent signals were recorded by LIGO-Virgo – an excellent reflection of the excitement of cutting-edge research.

A bit about myself:

I’m a third-year graduate student in Physics at the University of Mississippi, doing research with the UM-LIGO group. I also recently completed a science journalism internship for India Bioscience, and am publishing news and features for their website here: https://indiabioscience.org/authors/SumeetKulkarni

The idea for the above article was conceived during the Conference for Science Communication (ComSciCon)-AIP held during September 23-24, 2019. LIGO made the strong mass-gap detection while we were having dinner at the end of the first day at the conference.

Looking forward to hearing from you,

Best regards,
Sumeet Kulkarni.

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