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LIGO: Searching For What No One Has Seen Before

The LIGO facility in Livingston Parish.
The LIGO facility in Livingston Parish.
The LIGO facility in Livingston Parish.
Credit LIGO
The LIGO facility in Livingston Parish.

A few weeks ago in mid September, LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory in Livingston Parish, began their science run. They began collecting data.


“We had an engineering run before that science run that was about a month long,” says JoeGiaime, the director ofLIGO. The engineering run helpedLIGOprepare for the science run. In fact,LIGOhas been preparing for this data collection since 2010.“One of the cool things about LIGO,” Giaime says, “is that we’re measuring something extremely interesting and cutting-edge science, but it’s something you can explain—it’s length!”

Detecting tiny changes in length could allowLIGOto observe gravitational waves, which has never been done before.

Almost 100 years ago, Albert Einstein developed the theory of general relativity. The theory predicted that the interaction between extremely massive objects in space will emit gravity waves, warping space-time in the process.

So two black holes or neutron stars that orbit around each other then coalesce, that super energetic, unimaginably crazy process can create ripples in space-time. They can come through here and what happens is that teeny tiny changes in lengths can be observed.

“So we’re measuring something to the precision one-ten thousandth the diameter of a proton,”Giaimesays.

LIGO’smission is two-fold. First, they want to prove that gravitational waves are detectable in the first place.

“But the ‘O’ inLIGOstands for observatory.”

And that’s LIGO’s second job—to observe some of the most violent interactions between celestial objects in the universe.  

Copyright 2015 WRKF

Nick Janzen began his journalism career right here at WRKF. Reporting primarily on science and the environment, he also covers sports and local news. Born and raised in New Orleans, Nick earned a bachelors in political science from the University of Alabama before moving to Baton Rouge to pursue a masters in coastal science from Louisiana State University. Nick is a proud sci-fi nerd and passionate soccer fan.