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LIGO Up And Running, But Gravity Waves Remain Elusive

Washington DC (SPX) Jan 10, 2006
Scientists working on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory said Monday the facility has reached its target detection sensitivity, but the goal of finding the elusive phenomena known as gravity waves remains as elusive as ever.

"So far, there has been no direct detection," LIGO team member Nergis Mavalvala of MIT told SpaceDaily.com .

The twin linked facilities, one in Hanford, Washington, and the other in Livingston, Louisiana, began a planned one-year continuous operation the fifth and longest duration so far last November. The instruments are able to resolve sudden distortions in space-time as small as 10 -18 meter, or one-thousandth the diameter of a proton. But even such astounding sensitivity is not sufficient to catch most cosmological events that could cause gravity waves.

That should change, Mavalvala told reporters at the American Astronomical Association's annual meeting, with the installation of LIGO's next generation of instruments. Where the current configuration can detect only the "brightest" of events, such as the head-on collision of two super massive black holes, the Advanced LIGO package funding for which is scheduled to be added to the National Science Foundation's budget in fiscal year 2008 is expected to produce a tenfold improvement in sensitivity.

"The increased sensitivity is firmly set by the astrophysics that we know today," Mavalvala said, adding that Advanced LIGO should improve the chances of gravity-wave detection by a factor of 1,000. This enhanced sensitivity, she added, will allow LIGO to detect the space-time implications of cosmic events such as the collisions of smaller black holes, or the absorption by black holes of neutron stars, events estimated to occur somewhere in the universe as often as once per day.

In particular, the team wants to observe a black-hole collision, said the NSF's Michael Turner, who oversees funding of LIGO. Such an event, he told reporters, has little or nothing to do with astrophysics or hydrodynamics. "It's a clear problem of relativity," he said.

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Satellites Capture Gravity Map Of Tides Under Antarctic Ice
Columbus OH (SPX) Dec 06, 2005
Ohio State University scientists have used minute fluctuations in gravity to produce the best map yet of ocean tides that flow beneath two large Antarctic ice shelves.