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Saturday, September 18, 2010

Gravitational wave detectors check for the expanding or contracting of the facility itself!

You've probably already heard of Einstein's description of gravity as mass actually warping the spacetime around it.  What I didn't know until recently is that violent events of massive celestial objects are believed to create ripples, not just curvature.
At this point, gravitational waves are technically still conceptual.  We have indirect evidence that they most likely exist, and highly advanced facilities have been built for their detection.  LIGO (The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) facilities use an array of two light corridors, each which are miles long.  The first arm is angled 90 degrees apart from the second.  During the passing of a gravitational wave, extremely sensitive nanoscale detection will notice the the light in one arm seem to expand while the other arm's light beam contracts.  What's particularly amazing in this observation is that the light beams are remaining static.  The spacetime of the entire laboratory (and all of Earth) is what's expanding or contracting!
Visit LIGO's official site for a layman's overview of LIGO and gravitational waves.
If this floats your boat to the extreme, check out Einstein@Home, a cpu sharing program from University of Wisconsin that uses your computer's idling time to process batches of their insane amount of incoming data.

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