Astrophysicist Yuri Levin Heads CCA’s New Compact Objects Research Group

Black holes sometimes gobble up neutron stars, producing short bursts of gamma rays. Credit: Dana Berry/NASA

The Simons Foundation is pleased to announce a new research group within the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics (CCA). Led by astrophysicist Yuri Levin, the Compact Objects group will explore the physics underlying gravitational waves and relatively compact astronomical objects, such as neutron stars and supermassive black holes.

Levin has a long track record of tackling big questions in theoretical physics. For his Ph.D. thesis at the California Institute of Technology, Levin worked on a theory of thermal noise and quantum measurements for the gravitational wave-hunting Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) experiment. He will continue his work on the physics of LIGO while heading the new Compact Objects group.

The group’s initial focus includes research into magnetars, a subset of neutron stars with incredibly strong magnetic fields. Magnetars can produce powerful X-ray outbursts and gamma ray flares, though the mechanisms underlying these eruptions remain mysterious. Unlike magnetars, accreting neutron stars typically have small, often unobservable, magnetic fields. The group will investigate the magnetic fields, spin frequencies and thermonuclear surface explosions of these stars.

The Compact Objects group will also explore information gleaned from observations of gravitational waves, including possible phenomena such as gravitational wave memory, vibrating cosmic string loops and dark matter consisting of ultralight axion particles.

Another research area for the group is the dynamics of gas and stars near supermassive black holes such as Sagittarius A* (SgrA*), the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy. Questions include the origin of young stars and compact objects in the immediate vicinity of SgrA*, as well as learning how supermassive black holes draw in gas without the gas clumping and forming stars.

The Compact Objects group joins the CCA’s Astronomical Data, Galaxy Formation, Statistical Cosmology and Gravitational Wave Astronomy groups at the Flatiron Institute, located across the street from the Simons Foundation headquarters in New York City.