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Tag archives: LIGO

Ravens at LIGO, stained-glass physics, fake space pics

Stained glass physics plots

Grand designs: Los Alamos physicist Hubert van Hecke combines his hobby of stained-glass windows with physics. (Courtesy: Hubert van Hecke)

By Michael Banks and Sarah Tesh

Researchers working on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory might be answering some of the biggest questions in astrophysics, but last week they had a rather more down-to-Earth problem to solve. When spurious glitches were picked up by the detector characterization group at the LIGO detector based in Hanford, Washington, they went on an investigation to find the culprit. The team suspected that ravens were to blame as they had been seen causing mischief on tubes that vent nitrogen gas. These pipes are connected to the vacuum enclosure and any vibration could change the optical path length of light that is scattered from the test mass and reflected back. Upon closer inspection, LIGO researchers found peck marks that were “consistent with the size of a raven’s beak”. Not content with just watching the birds at play, the team even performed “simulated pecking” to see how this affected the machine’s performance. With the culprit now identified, you will be pleased to hear that the lines are set to be insulated to fend off the birds. “I guess we can’t blame [the ravens] for desiring ice on a hot desert afternoon,” writes Robert Schofield in a LIGO logbook post.

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How LIGO got the word out about gravitational waves

Tweeting to millions: LIGO made a social media plan before announcing the detection (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

Tweeting to millions: LIGO made a social-media plan before announcing the detection. (Courtesy: Sarah Tesh)

By Sarah Tesh

Nowadays, social media plays a big role in communicating science to the public. It has two important qualities – it’s free and it’s international.  A great case study for social media and science came last year when the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced the first ever detection of gravitational waves. To tell us more about how the team grabbed the public’s attention (and got its work on Sheldon Cooper’s T-shirt in The Big Bang Theory), LIGO scientist Amber Stuver gave a witty talk at the APS March Meeting 2017 about the outreach strategy.

She began by telling us the story of that exciting detection day. Before the first detection, LIGO had published 80 papers on “detecting nothing”.  Yet on 14 September 2015 – the first morning of the first day of Advanced LIGO – the much-sought-after signal appeared. The first thing that had to be done was to check it wasn’t a fake. Having detected nothing for so long, those with the knowledge to do so would sometimes “inject” results to check the system worked and keep the scientists on their toes.

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Physics World visits LIGO Livingston

(Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

Wave sign: the secluded road that leads to LIGO Livingston. (Courtesy: Tushna Commissariat)

 

By Tushna Commissariat and Sarah Tesh at LIGO Livingston, Louisiana, US

Being a journalist can be a busy and often stressful job, especially as deadlines loom fast and furious. But one of the best perks of the job is the chance to meet some amazing people and visit some of the best scientific facilities in the world. As most regualr readers of Physics World will know, we – Sarah and Tushna – have been in New Orleans, Lousiana for the APS March Meeting 2017. And it just so happens that about a two-hour drive away from New Orleans lies one half of one of the most advanced experiments in the world – the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) at Livingston.

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Live space station upgrade, more zombie physics, T-shirts for LIGO

Working in space: A still image from the NASA spacewalk video (Courtesy: NASA)

Working in space: A still image from the NASA spacewalk video. (Courtesy: NASA)

By Hamish Johnston

NASA is live streaming a video of a spacewalk on its Facebook page, and you just might be able to catch it live from the International Space Station – or watch it again. The video shows astronauts Shane Kimbrough and Peggy Whitson upgrading the space station’s power system – and it looks like hard work to me.

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Waking up to a gravitational wave


By Hamish Johnston

Yesterday we announced the winner of the Physics World 2016 Breakthrough of the Year, which went to the LIGO Scientific Collaboration for its revolutionary, first ever direct observations of gravitational waves. I caught up with six LIGO scientists in the above video Hangout and asked them what it was like when they first realized that they had detected gravitational waves emanating from two coalescing black holes 1.3 billion light-years away.

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Chasing gravitational waves in song, physicists on Broadway, the ‘impossible space engine’ returns

 

By Hamish Johnston

These days anyone making a major breakthrough in physics is expected to follow-up with a cheesy music video. So give it up for The Mavericks and “Chasing the Waves”, which chronicles the quest to detect gravitational waves – which culminated in LIGO’s success earlier this year. I don’t much about this video, but it seems to have been filmed at the University of Glasgow, which is part of the LIGO collaboration.

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Second wave: all about LIGO, black holes, gravitational ripples and more

 

By Tushna Commissariat

What an exciting week it has been, as the LIGO and Virgo collaborations announced that they have definitely detected a second gravitational wave event using the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (aLIGO) in the US.  These waves made their way into aLIGO early on Boxing Day last year (in fact it was still very late on Christmas Day in the US states where the twin detectors are located), a mere three months after the first gravitational-wave event was detected on 14 September 2015.

This event once again involved the collision and merger of two stellar-mass black holes, and since the “Boxing Day binary” is still on my mind, this week’s Red Folder is a collection of all the lovely images, videos, infographics and learning tools that have emerged since Wednesday.

LIGO physicist and comic artist Nutsinee Kijbunchoo has drawn a cartoon showing that while the researchers were excited about the swift second wave, they were a bit spoilt by the first, which was loud and clear – and could be seen by naked eye in the data. The black holes involved in the latest wave were smaller and a bit further away, meaning the signal was fainter, but actually lasted for longer in the detectors.

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LIGO paints a clearer picture of its merging black holes

Illustration of two black holes spiralling into each other to create a larger black hole (Courtesy: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

Illustration of two black holes spiralling into each other to create a larger black hole. (Courtesy: Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab)

By Hamish Johnston

Physicists working on the LIGO gravitational-wave detectors have released more information about the merging black holes that they announced the discovery of earlier this year. Dubbed GW150914, we now know that the gravitational wave was created by the merger of one black hole that was 36 times as massive as the Sun with a smaller black hole that weighed in at 29 solar masses. The result of the merger was a black hole at 62 solar masses and a spin angular momentum of 0.67, where 1.0 is the maximum value of spin a black hole can have.

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Kavli prize for gravitational-wave pioneers

Winners of the 2016 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics

Gravitational-wave pioneers: (l to r) Ronald Drever, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss.

By Michael Banks

It’s been a great month for the people behind the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (aLIGO), which recently discovered gravitational waves.

In early May, Ron Drever, Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss – who co-founded LIGO – together bagged a cool $1m share of a special $3m Breakthrough Prize together with more than 1000 LIGO scientists, who shared the remaining $2m.

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LIGO could soon detect one gravitational wave per week

The LIGO detectors in Louisiana

The LIGO detectors in Louisiana (above) and Washington are currently being upgraded. (Courtesy: LIGO/Caltech)

By Hamish Johnston at the APS April Meeting in Salt Lake City 

I came to Salt Lake City hoping to glean a few golden nuggets of information about what future gravitational-wave detections we can expect from LIGO. What I found is that the collaboration is as tight-lipped as ever about discussing potential results. That’s fair enough and I understand the caution. However, I was hoping that the researchers would have loosened up a bit after their February announcement of the first gravitational-wave detection and share a little more with the general public.

So, what have I learned?

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