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Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory

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NSF Award:

The Operation and Maintenance of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO)  (California Institute of Technology)

The Construction of the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (AdvLIGO)  (California Institute of Technology)

Research Focus & Anticipated Benefits

LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, is an instrument for sensing the presence of matter, whether shining or dark, in the distant reaches of the cosmos. LIGO does this by detecting gravitational waves, ripples in the force of gravity created by violent events such as the collisions of stars and the vibrations of black holes.

AdvLIGO is the planned upgrade of the existing Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (AdvLIGO) that will allow LIGO to approach the ground-based limit of gravitational-wave detection. LIGO consists of the world’s most sophisticated optical interferometers, operating at two sites 3,000 km apart: Hanford Washington and Livingston Louisiana. These interferometers measure minute changes in arm lengths resulting from the passing of wave-like distortions of spacetime called gravitational waves, caused by cataclysmic processes in the universe such as the coalescence of two black holes or neutron stars.  LIGO is sensitive to changes as small as one one-thousandth the diameter of a proton over the 4-km arm length; AdvLIGO  is expected to be at least 10 times more sensitive. The LIGO program has stimulated strong interest in gravitational-wave research around the world, producing vigorous programs in other countries that provide strong competition as well as highly beneficial collaborations.  LIGO has pioneered and led the field of gravitational-wave detection and a timely upgrade is necessary to sustain progress in this area.

Education & Outreach

LIGO provides research and training opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students through a vigorous Research Experience for Undergraduates program and graduate student use of the facility to conduct Ph.D. research. Additionally, the LIGO Observatory in Livingston, LA is home to a Science Education Center. In collaboration with Southern University, it provides regional pre-service and in-service training on LIGO-related science to K-12 teachers. Thousands of students and members of the public tour the Hanford and Livingston sites each year.

Teachers based near the LIGO observatories in Hanford, WA or Livingston, LA are encouraged to bring their students to the observatories for field trips. Interested teachers can get even more involved by taking advantage of the Research Experiences for Teachers (RET) internships offered each summer at the Hanford and Livingston Observatories.

Beyond its on-site tours and research experiences, LIGO also hosts lesson plans and a collection of activities on its website that can be used to illustrate gravitational waves. The American Museum of Natural History has worked with LIGO to create online experiences where users can take the controls of a virtual gravitational wave interferometer or take a virtual tour of LIGO facilities.

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Related Institutions

German-British Gravitational Wave Detector

Massachusetts Institute of Technology



  • Aerial view of LIGO facility in Louisiana
An aerial view of the LIGO Livingston Observatory, located in Livingston, Louisiana.
LIGO Scientific Collaboration

Award Highlights Related to This Asset

Colorful visualization of a 3-D gravitational wave

David and Goliath Black Hole Clashes

scientists pursuing super-massive black holes suspect that these giants merge somewhere in the universe roughly once a year, but the evidence is hidden in the powerful gravitational waves and strong bursts of electromagnetic radiation black holes create when they collide., these astronomers will be using the future advanced ligo (laser interferometer gravitational-wave observatory, under construction and supported by nsf) and the space probe lisa (laser interferometer space antenna, a future nasa mission in the planning stages)., for the first time ever, numerical simulation methods are able to handle a drastic mass difference between the members of a binary black hole system, an accomplishment that had not been expected for another 10 years....

Research Areas: Computing, Astronomy & Space

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