“When I was in high school, I was certain that being an astronaut was my goal. It was a very important time — Sally Ride was making her first flight into space and she had a real impact on me. Those ‘firsts’ kind of stick in your head and really become inspirations for you.” Karen Nyberg, astronaut
On September 14th, less than 72 hours after being activated at its highest sensitivity ever, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (LIGO) detected its first unambiguous signal in both detectors, a signal that corresponded to the merger of two massive black holes: 36 and 29 solar masses apiece, merging into a 62 solar mass end state with 5% of its initial mass radiated away into pure energy, in the forms of ripples in space itself.
Yet this was the culmination of decades of work designing, developing, testing and implementing such a system. In the end, these ripples in the fabric of space passed through the Earth at the speed of light, compressing and stretching the interferometer’s arms by some thousandths the width of a proton. What was it like, from an insider’s perspective?
I got the opportunity to sit down with Dave Reitze, the executive director of LIGO, and ask some of the deepest questions about the past, present and future of gravitational wave astronomy. Don’t miss it!