9 December 2010
US researchers are offering Australia a gravitational wave detector worth $140 million provided Australia can build an appropriate facility, costing a further $140 million, to house it.
The sophisticated detector would be part of a global search for gravitational waves, which were predicted by Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity, but have not yet been found.
Their discovery would provide the strongest and most direct support for the Theory, which is Einstein’s greatest legacy according to Prof Bruce Allen, director of the Albert Einstein Institute in Hanover. “It predicts the bending of light as it passes by the Sun, and the collapse of stars into black holes. Another dramatic prediction is that rapidly accelerating massive objects produce ‘waves of gravitation’ that propagate through space at the speed of light,”
“Later in this decade, a new generation of large ‘gravitational wave observatories’ promises to make the first direct detections of these waves. This will usher in a new way to ‘see’ the universe and a new era in astronomy and astrophysics,” Allen said.
The $280-million observatory, to be known as LIGO-Australia, would be built at Gingin, 65 km north of Perth, where there is already a small test detector. It would ‘feel’ the gravitational waves passing, using incredibly precise lasers to measure minute movements in two mirrors several kilometres apart.
The offer has been made by LIGO-Laboratory and would be funded by America’s peak science agency, the National Science Foundation (NSF).
Locating one of the three detectors financed by the agency in the Southern Hemisphere would allow much more accurate determination of the origin of any gravitational waves discovered. And it would also have huge advantages for Australia, says Prof Jesper Munch of the University of Adelaide, chair of the Australian Consortium of Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy (ACIGA), a consortium of five universities set up to advance the proposal.
“In addition to its significant scientific role, LIGO-Australia would put this country at the forefront of the relevant technology, including ultra-stable lasers. It would also attract some of the world’s best scientists, provide a unique educational facility for young scientists and engineers, and complement information from the proposed Square Kilometre Array, the world’s largest radio telescope.”
The members of ACIGA are the University of Western Australia, the University of Adelaide, the University of Melbourne, Monash University and the Australian National University.
LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory.
ACIGA has been collaborating with LIGO for more than 15 years.
For further information on LIGO-Australia, contact Jesper Munch on 0403 156 711 or David McClelland at ANU on 0402 395 120.
More information on gravitational waves at http://www.ligo-la.caltech.edu/LLO/overviewsci.htm
The stories are all being presented this week at the Melbourne Convention Centre at the 19th Australian Institute of Physics Congress incorporating the 35th Australian Conference on Optical Fibre Technology – more stories and details at www.scienceinpublic.com.au/blog.