Gravitational Wave Detectors Upgraded To Hunt For ‘Extreme Cosmic Events’

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) facilities, residing in Washington and Louisiana, will be upgraded via grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation, UK Research and Innovation and the Australian Research Council — providing stronger, more frequent detections and decreasing noise. CNET reports: Over $34 million will be provided for the upgrade which makes LIGO sound like the latest iPhone. When it is complete, LIGO will go from its crusty old 2015 “Advanced LIGO” phase to the “Advanced LIGO Plus” phase. LIGO’s twin facilities both contain two 4-kilometer long arms that use lasers to detect minute disturbances caused by extremely energetic cosmic events — like black holes merging. The incredibly high-powered events are responsible for gravitational waves, rippling out through spacetime the same way water does when you drop a rock in a pond. By the time they reach Earth, the ripples are so small that only incredibly tiny disturbances in LIGO’s lasers can detect them.

The proposed upgrades will greatly increase the number of events that LIGO will detect. With only 11 under its belt so far, [David Reitze, executive director of LIGO] even expects we might see “black hole mergers on a daily basis” and describes neutron star mergers becoming “much more frequent.” All that extra power adds up, hopefully revealing some of the cosmos’ deepest, darkest secrets. In September 2015, LIGO provided the first evidence for a black hole merger — and in turn, the existence of gravitational waves — just four days after a three-year long upgrade. Since then, LIGO has seen 10 black hole mergers and a single, huge collision between two incredibly dense stars, known as neutron stars.

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