Hanford, WSU aid in stunning physics discovery
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - The stunning announcement that scientists have finally detected gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago, shined a light on a research facility located on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation.
The research also included contributions from scientists at Washington State University.
"We have quite a few researchers on the ground floor at the Large Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory at Hanford," Will Ferguson, a spokesman for WSU in Pullman, said after the news was announced Thursday.
For instance, physics professor Sukanta Bose searches for gravitational waves and uses them to probe the nature of black holes and neutron stars. Bose is currently working with a team of U.S. and Indian scientists on a proposal to build an additional LIGO detector in India.
"A third LIGO detector far away from the two in the United States will allow astronomers to localize powerful gravitational wave events more accurately in the sky," he said.
The gravitational waves were detected last September 14 by both LIGO detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and at Hanford, near Richland, Washington.
The news confirmed a major prediction of Albert Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity and opened an unprecedented new window into the cosmos. Arriving at Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe, gravitational waves carry information about their dramatic origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained.
Detecting gravitational waves is so difficult that when Einstein first theorized about them, he figured scientists would never be able to hear them.
In 1979, the National Science Foundation decided to give money to the California Institute of Technology and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to come up with a way to detect the waves.
Twenty years later, they started building the two LIGO detectors, and they were turned on in 2001.
After years with no luck, scientists realized they had to build a more advanced system, which was turned on last September.
Each LIGO has two giant perpendicular arms more than 2 miles long. A laser beam is split and travels both arms, bouncing off mirrors to return to the arms' intersection. Gravitational waves stretch the arms to create an incredibly tiny mismatch - smaller than a subatomic particle - in the beams' locations. That mismatch is what LIGO detects.