Gravitational Waves

  • Researchers at UWS have been involved in assisting a major international scientific research project seeking to validate the final major plank of Einstein’s theory of relativity published 100 years ago. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-waves Observatory (LIGO) is supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and operated by colleagues in California Institute of Technology (CalTech) and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). UWS is a full member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

    Five years ago, a project commenced to redesign and redevelop LIGO with cutting-edge scientific technologies and expertise. The redesigned LIGO, named Advanced LIGO (aLIGO) utilised the best scientific and technological developments from around the globe and researchers in UWS have played their part in this internationally significant project.

    A new research team was created in 2012, exploiting the novel and unique thin film coating facilities available at UWS, to address some of the key challenges in technology required for upgrades to LIGO and other future planned gravitational wave observatories, such as the Einstein Telescope in Europe. Along with UK partners from Glasgow, Birmingham, Strathclyde, Cardiff, and the Rutherford Appleton Laboratories, UWS assisted the UK in supplying the mirror suspension technology which holds the aLIGO interferometer’s mirrors in place – an upgrade component which makes the detection of gravitational waves possible.

    The first Observing Run of aLIGO started on September 18, 2015. During the run (3 months’ duration), aLIGO detectors will be simultaneously collecting data and it is hoped will provide LIGO researchers with long-awaited new data to continue their quest to directly detect cosmic gravitational waves. aLIGO is already three times more sensitive than initial LIGO, but the aLIGO detectors will be fine-tuned in the next months to increase the sensitivity 10 times compared with the initial LIGO. This will allow the scientists to detect gravitational waves generated as far away as several hundred millions of light years. aLIGO will allow scientist to listen to distortions in the fabric of space. If the project validates Einstein’s theory, it will open up a completely new way to observe the Universe, which will possibly change our entire understanding of the cosmos we live in. 

    • About LIGO
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      LIGO) was conceived of and is designed to open the field of gravitational-wave astrophysics through the direct detection of gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. LIGO’s multi-kilometer-scale gravitational wave detectors use laser interferometry to measure the minute ripples in space-time caused by passing gravitational waves from cataclysmic cosmic sources such as the mergers of pairs of neutron stars or black holes, or by supernovae. LIGO consists of two widely separated interferometers within the United States—one in Hanford, Washington and the other in Livingston, Louisiana—operated in unison to detect gravitational waves.

      LIGO is a national facility for gravitational-wave research, providing opportunities for the broader scientific community to participate in detector development, observation, and data analysis. The capabilities of the LIGO detectors have been improved by the recently completed Advanced LIGO project, which will increase the sensitivity and observational range of LIGO by a factor of 10, bringing 1000 times more galaxies into LIGO's observational range. The first science run with the improved detectors began in September 2015.

      The design and construction of LIGO was carried out by LIGO Laboratory’s team of scientists, engineers, and staff at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and collaborators from the over 80 scientific institutions world-wide that are members of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.