A large step closer to the first direct detection of gravitational waves
Researchers of the British-German GEO project make key contributions to advanced LIGO gravitational-wave detectors
On May 19, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) will dedicate their second-generation gravitational-wave detectors (aLIGO) in a ceremony at the Hanford detector site. Researchers from the British-German GEO project, have made significant contributions in several key areas of high precision measurement required for detecting elusive gravitational waves.
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.
GEO600 contributes advanced detector techniques
“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. “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.
Next step: First observation run
aLIGO 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.
Gravitational waves are an important prediction of Einstein's theory of general relativity. Accelerated motions of large masses create ripples in space-time, which lead to tiny relative distance changes between far-away objects. Even gravitational waves emitted by astrophysical sources, like stellar explosions or merging black holes, change the length of a one-kilometer measurement distance on Earth by only one thousandth of the diameter of a proton (10-18 meters). Only now the detectors have reached a level of sensitivity at which they can measure gravitational waves. The observation of the until now dark “Gravitational Universe” will usher in a new era in astronomy. The interferometric gravitational-wave detectors such as aLIGO (in the USA), GEO600 (in Germany), and Virgo (in Italy), as well as planned detectors in Japan and India collaborate closely.
Advanced LIGO consists of interferometric gravitational-wave detectors at two sites, one in Hanford (Washington State, USA) and one in Livingston (Louisiana, USA). Although still in the commissioning phase, their sensitivity to gravitational waves is already higher than ever before. aLIGO will start its first coordinated data-taking run in the autumn of 2015. At design sensitivity, a ten-fold increase in sensitivity over initial LIGO is expected. This should enable the detection of multiple gravitational-wave events each year.
GEO600 is an interferometric gravitational-wave detector with 600 meter long laser beam tubes, located near Hannover, Germany. It is designed and operated by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics and Leibniz Universität Hannover, along with partners in the United Kingdom, and is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, the State of Lower Saxony, the Max Planck Society, the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC), and the VolkswagenStiftung. GEO600 is part of a worldwide network of gravitational wave detectors and at the moment the only detector taking data almost continuously. GEO600 also is a think tank for advanced detector technologies, such as non-classical (squeezed) light, signal and power recycling, and monolithic suspensions.
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