The Beginning of Gravitational Wave Astrophysics

Wednesday, October 26, 2016 - 3:30pm PDT
Stan Whitcomb
California Institute of Technology
N232, room 103
Event Type: 

On September 14, 2015, the two sites of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected a short burst of gravitational waves from the inspiral and merger of two black holes, the first time that gravitational waves had been directly detected since their prediction roughly a century ago. The LIGO detectors use advanced lasers and optics to compare  the lengths of two perpendicular 4-km long arms with sensitivity better than one one-thousandth the diameter of an atomic nucleus. This observation of gravitational waves marks the end of a 40+ year-long quest, but also sets the stage for a new era of gravitational wave studies of high energy astrophysical sources. In this talk, I will recount some of the history of gravitational wave detection, describe the ultra-sensitive instruments required, and speculate about future discoveries.

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