A Corbeled Gallery work

Monday, November 07, 2005

Measuring Gravitational Waves (finally!)

We may finally have equipment that are sensitive enough to measure gravitational waves, which are incredibly small and have evaded detection despite the theories that they are present as a way of explaining gravitational effects.

Gravity, created by the presence of mass, bends space-time, and determines that a body travelling through space past, for example a star, will follow a "curved" path. This implies that whenever a mass accelerates, gravitational waves are sent out across the universe causing shudders in time and space.

No one has been able to observe and record a gravitational wave because of the fractional changes involved. Since they began their search in the 1960s, scientists have developed ever more sensitive equipment. The GEO600 detector, the most sensitive built, will next month begin an 18-month run of readings at the same time as detectors in Washington and Louisiana.

The recent most sensitive reader, the GEO600 interferometer, is beginning an 18-month run of readings. This piece of equiptment is so sensitive that it can detect an object moving one million billionth of a millimetre. This is necessary because even the violent disruption of super-dense astronomical bodies, such as a black hole, is thought to produce ripples that are equivalent to the distance between the Earth and the Moon changing by one 100 billionth of the width of the thickest human hair. The GEO600 utilizes a laser beam split into two branches which are sent down two identical 2000ft-long tubes to suspended mirrors and back again. The beams are recombined and, assuming the two arms remain exactly the same distance, cancel each other out.

If the beams create an interference pattern when recombined, this means the length of the branches has been altered and a gravitational wave has been detected. ]

Many scientists in search of this "holy grail" of physics, are confident this series of tests will find the answers they have been looking for.

To read the article on UK Telegraph anouncing these tests, go here.

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