“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.

Image credit: R. Hurt – Caltech/JPL.

Image credit: R. Hurt – Caltech/JPL.

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?

Image credit: LIGO collaboration.

Image credit: LIGO collaboration.

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!

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua W Davies Jr MD
    Cold Spring, NY
    April 4, 2016

    I believe that infinite pure energy is the essence and ground state for all expressions that make up what we currently think of as the here and now of our finite volume of mass(the entire universe). Thanks to all of you for the time and effort required so far to develope LIGO. Now with continued funds and work I am sure that a greater comprehension of the reality of our existence will be in order.
    Everything within our plane of reference is restricted to within the event horizon of light energies finite speed. Our concept of the electromagnetic spectrum has led to many instruments that have broadened our view of reality. The force of variable waves on top of an underlying energetic whole adds information that is totally different from the continuum of electromagnetic radiation.
    The third aspect that we have to investigate is neutrinos. Neutrinos as MACHOs pass right through concentrated and condensed energetic objective phenomena. They are a form of radiation that is still energetic mass.
    With these three avenues of approach our understanding of the metabolic cycle within which we exist will surely expand our knowledge of the energetic whole that is also the steady state within which at this moment we exist.

  2. #2 Wow
    April 6, 2016

    Believe that all you like Josh,but it’s arrant rubbish until you can actually explain what the hell that blabber is supposed to mean.

    Many words do not a theory make.

  3. #3 Paul Dekous
    April 6, 2016

    A pity that Ethan didn’t question the certainty of the match between what’s measured and the proclamation that it were two Black Holes merging. ATM I would prefer the use of ‘hypothesized’ and wait for more data to be collected for a confirmation and a reference frame of an other GW-signal, also in regard to what Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope recorded. But perhaps this isn’t his field and more the job of the theoretical physicists … or are such questions once a paper is peer reviewed out of the question within the community?

  4. #4 Michael Kelsey
    SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory
    April 6, 2016

    @Paul Dekous #3: As you have already been informed multiple times (but apparently choose to ignore), LIGO already has (and has so stated publicly) multiple separate events recorded, which are in their “analysis pipeline” for publication. They chose GW150916 for publication first simply because it was the cleanest (i.e., lowest noise) signal of these set.

    Have you had any opportunity or desire to read the multiple published papers from LIGO describing the raw signal analysis, the fitting techniques (and of course, reading the cited papers there about the models themselves), and the astrophysical interpretation of the fits?

    If you have not, your opinion is worth even less than it was to begin with. If you have read them, perhaps you can point out specific issues you have with the analysis?

  5. #5 Brian
    CA
    April 7, 2016

    Another post from Ethan, another whiny argument in the comments section from “Wow”. I bet this loser is a real delight in person.

  6. #6 Wow
    April 8, 2016

    The only one whining here is you, Bri.

    Indeed all you’ve done is berate and complain about one poster.

  7. #7 Chris Mannering
    April 12, 2016

    The rationale for having the experiment run at two locations about 500 miles apart, is (I think) primarily to rule out earthquakes as a possible alternative explanation.

    The arguments that I have seen all assert that for earthquakes to be the source, there would have to be two identical quakes at each site, occurring exactly the same time as causally separate, independent events. The chances of something like that is obviously negligible.

    But I’m not sure the argument is correct, because surface detected earthquakes are known to happen as far down as 800 miles (it might be km). It seems perfectly feasible that an earthquake deep in the interior could reach the surface at both sites at the same time, and be of the same strength.

    I don’t know how likely or unlikely that’s going to be, but I think the possibility should reasonably have been anticipated and a process for ruling that explanation out, in the event of a detection.

    Was an appropriately senior professional or academic seismologist retained by the LIGO project, and was the seismological component designed and implemented under the oversight of this person or persons?

  8. #8 ray
    usa
    April 16, 2016

    Black holes are mythical creations, this is a fact that can be proven within one minute–check out YOUTUBE SUNLIGHT ELECTRO RAYS to see the power of sunlight doing what is supposed to be gravity job. keeping the planets in orbit. The effects of electricity is easily seen.There’s no such thing as gravity waves, also, there’s nothing as a nutrinos. What is seen here is electrons released from the sun spanking new and naked, naked because the heat of the sun would not allow matter to bond with electricity -too hot to bond until some cooling off period they come togather becoming an atom

  9. #9 Wow
    April 16, 2016

    “Black holes are mythical creations”

    No they aren’t. You need to read up what mythical means.

    “this is a fact that can be proven within one minute”

    It can’t. It can be proven WRONG within one minute, though.

    “YOUTUBE SUNLIGHT ELECTRO RAYS”

    You also need to check out the meaning of sunlight, electro and rays. They don’t mean what you appear to think they do. For whatever value of “think” applies in your case.

    “It seems perfectly feasible that an earthquake deep in the interior could reach the surface at both sites at the same time, and be of the same strength.”

    And it would be feasible for it to happen wherever any measurement is made. However, it’s a very specific set of chances, getting more specific as the distances increase, so it’s much lower chance of being confused at 500km than at 50.

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