Big Steps in Gravitational Wave Detection

Today, May 19, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (“LSC”) dedicates its second-generation gravitational-wave detectors (“aLIGO”) in a ceremony at the Hanford detector site. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics have made significant contributions in key areas:

  • Custom-made high-power laser systems required for the high-precision measurements
  • Efficient data analysis methods running on powerful computer clusters
  • Accurate waveform models to detect gravitational waves and extract astrophysical information.

The Albert Einstein Institute (“AEI”) is a leading partner in the international gravitational-wave science community, and its researchers push the boundaries of science on the way to the first direct detection of gravitational waves. This will shed new light on the otherwise invisible “dark” side of the Universe and mark the beginning of gravitational-wave astronomy.

Gravitational waves are a predicted consequence of the general theory of relativity, but have not yet been directly observed. According to the theory, accelerated motions of large masses create space-time ripples that lead to small (make that “very small”) relative distance changes between distant objects. For example, gravitational waves emitted by stellar explosions or merging black holes change the length of a one-kilometer measurement on Earth by about one thousandth of the diameter of a proton (10-18 meters).

Finally, detectors have reached a level of sensitivity that can measure gravitational waves. The observation of the until now dark “Gravitational Universe” will usher in a new era in astronomy. Given their design sensitivity, the aLIGO instruments are expected to detect multiple gravitational-wave events each year.

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