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Science and the Environment

Hey Albert, Give Us a Wave: LIGO Confirms Existence of Gravitational Waves

T. Pyle/Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab

100 years ago, Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity, a far-reaching work which explained and predicted several important physical phenomena.  One particular prediction of the theory was the existence of gravitational waves.  These waves would exist in the fabric of space-time and would be created when large masses were accelerated.

Although it seemed likely that these waves would exist, it wasnt until the 1970s that indirect evidence for their existence was found.   Even after this confirmation, no easy way existed to directly sense the existence of these powerful, yet weak waves. 

To attack the problem, a group led by scientist at Cal Tech and other institutions came up with the idea to use a standard experimental technique called laser interferometry to sense the waves.  Unfortunately, the technique needed considerable improvement in sensitivity in order to meet the detection level requirements. 

The development of the technique took decades and resulted in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO). Amazingly, over the last several months, LIGO has finally detected the waves and confirmed the details of Einsteins great work.  Dr. Matt Abernathy, a scientist at the Naval Research laboratory, worked on the LIGO project for a number of years, and was an author on the paper resulting from the detection.  Listen in as he visits with us to talk about the technical work necessary to sense the cataclysmic behavior of distant stars.