LIGO Gets An Upgrade

Physicists are hoping that a $205 million upgrade will let LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatories) accomplish its purpose: to detect gravitational waves from neutron stars and black holes.

"With the limited LIGO range at time, it wasn't guaranteed detection," said Albert Lazzarini, deputy director of LIGO at the California Institute of Technology. "With Advanced LIGO, it'd be very surprising from a relativity perspective if we didn't observe anything."


(Gravitational wave model)

Here's how LIGO works:

LIGO tries to detect gravitational waves using highly precise lasers to measure the time it takes light to travel between mirrors. Two sets of facing mirrors sit at a 90 degree angle, forming something like an "L" shape that meets at a corner. A laser beam is shot through an "L" shaped splitter at the corner, which splits the beam into two beams that strike each set of mirrors.

The laser interferometer measures how long the laser light bounces back and forth between the mirrors on the "L" legs before returning to a light detector at the "L" corner. They should theoretically return to the light detector at the same time because the mirror legs are identical distances unless a passing gravitational wave distorts the local space-time fabric and changes the distance.

In the 1972 novel Two Planets, Kurd Lasswitz writes about a kind of viewer that used gravitational waves to see details at astronomical distances.

It was difficult to determine the exact direction in which the axis of the cone of gravitational beams should be positioned. This cone of beams had to be transmitted to overtake the light that was reflected from the planet at the time of the event and which was now on its way through space. This light had to be brought back again. After the returning waves of gravitation had been transferred into light again and after they had passed the optical relay, a picture of the searched for area could finally be projected...
(Read more about Gravitational Wave Viewer)

Via Scientists Now Expect to Find Gravitational Waves ; thanks to Walt Bradley for writing in with the story and the sf quote.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 4/11/2008)

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