The LIGO pro­ject

Con­struc­tion and com­ple­tion of the third LIGO in­ter­fer­om­e­ter is to be taken up shortly, and the ob­ser­va­tory is ex­pected to be func­tional by 2023, which will sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove the abil­ity of sci­en­tists to pin­point the sources of grav­i­ta­tional waves and

SP's MAI - - MILITARY -

[ By Lt Gen­eral P.C. Ka­toch (Retd)

A] midst the com­mo­tion of the Nu­clear Se­cu­rity Sum­mit 2016 held in Wash­ing­ton DC, sign­ing of the Indo-US MoU on the set­ting up of Laser In­ter­fer­om­e­ter Grav­i­ta­tional-Wave Ob­ser­va­tory (LIGO) in In­dia largely went un­no­ticed. The LIGO pro­ject re­cently proved the ex­is­tence of grav­i­ta­tional waves en­vis­aged by Al­bert Ein­stein a cen­tury ago. In­ter­est­ingly, Ein­stein had gone on record to say, “We owe a lot to the In­di­ans, who taught us how to count, with­out which no worth­while sci­en­tific dis­cov­ery could have been made.”

Now it is In­dia’s turn to join re­search on grav­i­ta­tional waves that were first vi­su­alised by Ein­stein. This will be the third LIGO ob­ser­va­tory, and the first one out­side the US. The LIGO, funded by Amer­ica’s Na­tional Sci­ence Foun­da­tion (NSF), is the largest and most am­bi­tious pro­ject ever funded by the NSF, col­lab­o­rat­ing more than 900 sci­en­tists world­wide as well as 44,000 ac­tiveEin­[email protected] users. The LIGO pro­ject is run with the col­lab­o­ra­tion of 90 uni­ver­si­ties and re­search in­sti­tu­tions. 30 peo­ple of In­dian ori­gin are part of the LIGO pro­ject. The two ex­ist­ing LIGO ob­ser­va­to­ries are lo­cated at Han­ford, Wash­ing­ton, and Liv­ingston, Louisiana, and are op­er­ated by Cal­tech and MIT. While In­dia will now join the league of coun­tries sup­port­ing re­search on grav­i­ta­tional waves with set­ting up of this LIGO ob­ser­va­tory, US, UK, Italy, Ger­many and Ja­pan have on­go­ing re­search in the area.

The pro­posed ob­ser­va­tory in In­dia was dis­cussed be­tween In­dia and US in June 2012. The ba­sis of the LIGO-In­dia pro­ject en­tailed trans­fer of one of LIGO’s de­tec­tors from US to In­dia, which would have af­fected work and sched­ul­ing on the Ad­vanced LIGO up­grades al­ready un­der­way. In Au­gust 2012, US ap­proved the LIGO Lab­o­ra­tory’s re­quest to mod­ify the scope of Ad­vanced LIGO by not in­stalling the Han­ford “H2” in­ter­fer­om­e­ter, and to pre­pare it in­stead for stor­age in an­tic­i­pa­tion of send­ing it to LIGO-In­dia. The first direct de­tec­tion of grav­i­ta­tional waves was an­nounced by the sci­en­tists on Fe­bru­ary 11, 2016, open­ing a new win­dow onto the cos­mos. Im­me­di­ately af­ter this land­mark dis­cov­ery, Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi an­nounced on Fe­bru­ary 17, 2016, that the Cabi­net had granted ‘in-prin­ci­ple’ ap­proval to the ` 1,200-crore LIGO-In­dia mega sci­ence pro­posal.

Con­struc­tion and com­ple­tion of the third LIGO in­ter­fer­om­e­ter is to be taken up shortly, and the ob­ser­va­tory is ex­pected to be func­tional by 2023, which will sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove the abil­ity of sci­en­tists to pin­point the sources of grav­i­ta­tional waves and an­a­lyse the sig­nals. Grav­i­ta­tional waves are rip­ples in the fab­ric of space and time pro­duced by dra­matic events in the uni­verse, such as merg­ing black holes, and pre­dicted as a con­se­quence of Al­bert Ein­stein’s 1915 gen­eral the­ory of rel­a­tiv­ity carry in­for­ma­tion about their ori­gins and about the na­ture of grav­ity that can­not oth­er­wise be ob­tained.

LIGO Di­rec­tor Dr France A. Cor­dov has said that with the ad­di­tional grav­i­ta­tional wave de­tec­tor, lo­cated in In­dia, LIGO and its hun­dreds of as­so­ci­ated sci­en­tists world­wide are po­si­tioned to take this nascent field of grav­i­ta­tional wave sci­ence to the next level, adding, that the third de­tec­tor would be able to ‘tri­an­gu­late’ the source of grav­i­ta­tional waves and thus make other, more de­tailed ob­ser­va­tions.

The In­dian Cabi­net while ap­prov­ing LIGO-In­dia had said that the pro­ject “will also bring con­sid­er­able op­por­tu­ni­ties in cut­tingedge tech­nol­ogy for the In­dian in­dus­try” which will be re­spon­si­ble for the con­struc­tion of the new ob­ser­va­tory’s four-kilo­me­tre-long beam tubes, and the pro­ject will mo­ti­vate In­dian stu­dents and young sci­en­tists to ex­plore newer fron­tiers of knowl­edge; giv­ing fur­ther im­pe­tus to sci­en­tific re­search in the coun­try. The beams mon­i­tor the dis­tance be­tween mir­rors pre­cisely po­si­tioned at the ends of the arms. Ac­cord­ing to Ein­stein’s the­ory, the dis­tance be­tween the mir­rors will change by an in­fin­i­tes­i­mal amount when a grav­i­ta­tional wave passes by the de­tec­tor. A change in the lengths of the arms smaller than one-ten-thou­sandth the di­am­e­ter of a pro­ton (10-19 me­tre) can be de­tected. The de­gree of pre­ci­sion achieved by Ad­vanced LIGO is anal­o­gous to be­ing able to mea­sure the dis­tance be­tween our so­lar sys­tem and the sun’s near­est neigh­bour Al­pha Cen­tauri (about 4.4 light years away) ac­cu­rately to within a few mi­crons, a tiny frac­tion of the di­am­e­ter of a hu­man hair.

Prime Min­is­ter Modi had met LIGO sci­en­tists in Wash­ing­ton DC two days af­ter he met sci­en­tists from the In­sti­tute of Plasma Re­search in New Delhi, who are also work­ing on the LIGO pro­ject. Join­ing the LIGO pro­ject un­doubt­edly is an ex­cel­lent sci­en­tific ini­tia­tive since it will ben­e­fit mul­ti­ple ap­pli­ca­tions with far-reach­ing con­se­quences.

Prime Min­is­ter Modi with the LIGO team

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