I’m about to play with machine-learning software to look for signs of planets in the Plato software. It’s fun because it’s about creating prototypes without the hard-work engineering of making it work reliably in service. I just have to try out some code. If it works, it will be really cool and we’ll turn it into engineering later. If it doesn’t work, then hey, it was interesting; we have other ways to do the mission so nobody’s upset; and I got paid to learn something.
Right now I’m working on the design of an instrument for the world’s largest telescope. How can this not be fun! It’s great to be able to say you are working on the world’s biggest or fastest or whatever. Now, of course it’s hard work…. but I get to work with a fantastic group of engineers and scientists across Europe, who also think it’s hard work……but fun! Check it out, its called the European Extremely Large Telescope (fun name too!).
I’m working on a few projects right now but the one that I find the most interesting is the study of extreme black holes. Einstein’s maths (his theory of general relativity) shows that a black hole can only spin as fast as a certain limit. When it spins at this certain limit it is called an extreme black hole. I’m currently trying to investigate what happens when you take a smaller spinning black hole, which is roughly 10 times heavier than our sun and make it travel around a supermassive extreme black hole (1 billion times heavier than our sun). When the smaller object orbits the larger one, we get a burst of gravitational waves (see my description for what gravitational waves are). My goal: If we detect these gravitational waves, how could we test whether the central object (the big black hole) is extremal or not? How could we recover exactly how quickly the central object is spinning?
I love this project. It’s incredibly difficult but really interesting. It’s also very useful since black hole astrophysics becomes very interesting when you get extreme black holes and detecting these objects in nature would be fascinating.