Inauguration of new generation of gravitational wave observatories

18 May 2015

On Tuesday 19 May the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), which University of the West of Scotland (UWS) is a key member, will officially unveil their second-generation gravitational-wave detectors, Advanced LIGO (aLIGO) at a ceremony at the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) Hanford facility in Richland, Washington.

Researchers at UWS and from the British-German GEO project have made significant contributions in several key areas of high precision measurement required for detecting elusive gravitational waves and the launch of these new detectors will further advance this research.

The first direct detection of gravitational waves will open a new window to the otherwise invisible “dark” side of the Universe and mark the beginning of gravitational-wave astronomy. Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time that are emitted by cataclysmic cosmic events such as exploding stars, merging black holes and/or neutron stars, and rapidly rotating compact stellar remnants. These waves were predicted in 1916 by Albert Einstein as a consequence of his general theory of relativity, but have never been observed directly. At their design sensitivity, the aLIGO instruments should detect multiple gravitational-wave events each year.

Dr Stuart Reid of University of the West of Scotland’s Institute of Thin Films, Sensors and Imaging, leads the research theme at the University which is searching for gravitational waves.

Commenting on the inauguration of Advanced LIGO Dr Reid said: “The commencement of these new gravitational-wave detectors is a hugely significant moment in the research of gravitational waves. Advanced LIGO provides a crucial step towards the first detection of signals from astrophysical sources such as compact neutron star and black hole binaries.“

“With our UK colleagues we designed and operate the gravitational-wave detector GEO600 near Hanover, Germany. We use it as a think tank and testbed for advanced detector techniques,” says AEI director Prof. Karsten Danzmann, director at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert-Einstein-Insitute/AEI) and director of the Institute for Gravitational Physics at the Leibniz Universität Hannover.

He added: “Many of these new methods are now in use at the aLIGO detectors, such as signal recycling and monolithic mirror suspensions.”

GEO600 plays a pioneering role in the development and application of non-classical light in gravitational-wave detectors. GEO600 is the only detector worldwide using squeezed light to improve the detector sensitivity beyond limits set by the quantum nature of light.

Advanced LIGO will start its first data-taking (observation) run “O1” in the autumn of 2015, bringing the era of gravitational-wave astronomy a large step closer to reality – with key contributions from the Albert Einstein Institute and other partners including UWS.