Nobel Prize in Physics awarded to LIGO and gravitational wave detectors

04 October, 2017, 00:26 | Author: Delbert Rhodes
  • Barry Barish of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.   


Rainer Weiss is professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology while Kip Thorne and Barry Barish both work at the California Institute of Technology.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration has detected gravitational waves four times - first, on September 14, 2015, and most recently, on August 14, 2017. That worries me a lot, said Rainer Weiss, an emeritus professor of physics at MIT, and part of the team honored on Tuesday. In the 1970s he analysed possible sources of background noise which could interfere with any future gravitational wave observation technology. More on that later....

Before this Tuesday, Kip S Thorne, the 77-year-old American theoretical physicist whose work on gravitational waves, won him the top prize with two others, was known across the world for helping Christopher Nolan write his 2014 film Interstellar.

LIGO is an example of risky but potentially revolutionary science funded by NSF.

Barish received his experimental high energy physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Weiss and Thorne were pioneers of the LIGO project and Barish helped complete it.

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The instruments consist of a powerful laser and an interferometer with a pair of 4-km-long arms. The interferometer splits a laser beam in two, and the twin beams hit mirrors that bounce the beams back and forth.

"Scientists expect to hear space-time rhythms from Indian soil within next six to seven years", according to Karan P Jani, one of the many US-based Indian researchers working on the project. "We now witness the dawn of a new field: gravitational wave astronomy", Nils Martensson, acting chairman of the Nobel Committee for Physics, told reporters.

Gravitational waves travel at the speed of light, and since 2015, has been detected on four other occasions, most recently in August.

Einstein proposed that massive events that happen in the cosmos (such as two black holes colliding with each other) could cause ripples in space and time. They did this using a highly sophisticated detector to "listen" in on the event around 1.8 Billion light-years away. The distance allows each detector to ensure that if they record an interference it's not because of something local but gravitational waves. It took months for the scientists to convince themselves that they had in fact heard gravitational waves, he said.

It was only in 2015 that LIGO first picked up evidence of gravitational wave. Or rather, hear them, since they are detected as if they were chirping sounds. But even you, dear reader, are creating changes in spacetime. Because gravitational waves are radically different from electromagnetic waves such as radio waves, visible light, infrared light and X-rays, they are expected to reveal previously inaccessible features. "There are a huge amount of the universe that radiate gravitational waves". Maybe one day, this knowledge will lead to hyperdrive transportation, uncover how black holes form or reveal the origins of the universe, but for now, it's just kind of cool.



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