September 21, 2017

02.02.10 In Search of Life, Gravity Waves, and Everything.

The LIGO detector at Hanford. (Credit:NSF/LIGO).

The LIGO detector at Hanford. (Credit:NSF/LIGO).

Astronomers have added a key tool to their arsenal in probing the very early universe. LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory, is a pair of “observatories” one in Hanford, Washington, and one in Livingston, Louisiana that monitor the universe for that most exotic of beasts; gravity waves. Each L-shaped detector is comprised of two 2.25 mile long arms and by monitoring the minute changes in length as measured by laser beam, LIGO can detect changes as small as 1/1,000th of the width of an atomic nucleus.   By comparing the measurements from the two observatories and its sister companion, a European detector known as Virgo, directional magnitude of cosmic gravity waves can be measured. LIGO saw first “gravity light” in 2002. Late last year, data was released comprising two years’ worth of observations, and a sort of “all-sky map” in gravity waves is emerging. Unlike microwave energy, which can only probe the universe back to an age of about 380,000 years old, gravity waves were generated just moments after the Big Bang, and promise to paint a picture of that youthful era of our universe. LIGO may also prove to be one of the very few testable platforms for string theory, a theory that is very much in need of observational data. And be sure to keep an eye out in 2014 for Advanced LIGO, a detector to go online with 10x the present accuracy… can’t wait? YOU can join the citizen science brigade in the hunt for gravity waves before bedtime; checkout Einstein@home!


  1. Marco Cavaglia says:

    I’m not exactly sure of the meaning of the statement ‘LIGO saw first “gravity light” in 2002′, but what it is suggesting is incorrect. The LIGO experiment has not yet observed any gravitational wave signal to date.

  2. David Dickinson says:

    Very true… to date the sensitivities of LIGO merely put an upper limit on waves produced what we are capable of detecting. Advanced LIGO may be another story… look for a larger article on LIGO in the coming months on this site!


  1. [...] of note. Then, like a bolt from the sky, a lone commenter drew our attention to a recent news piece  we did on LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. A quick search of Google [...]

  2. [...] Gravitational wave Observatory are on the hunt for gravity waves and have likewise have placed constraints on the early formation of the [...]

  3. [...] perhaps, by the time our weekly Friday column comes out, it has. Our science writing career has grown up with LIGO and the hunt for gravitational waves, and we’ve been fortunate enough to visit both [...]

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