The frontier of human knowledge can be measured in collisions. With the right instruments, you can hear their echoes, from billions of years ago, many light years away.
Physicists and astronomers are slowly listening to the stories inside these echoes, known as “gravitational waves,” in hopes of learning more about the birth of the universe and the nature of our reality. One of these researchers is Washington State University physics professor Sukanta Bose, who is helping to develop a new gravitational wave observatory center in India through a U.S. partnership. He is tasked with further developing the country’s scientific community by using astronomical research with the help of LIGO facilities (or Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory).
LIGO began as a joint project between MIT and Caltech, funded by the National Science Foundation, but has since grown into the international LIGO Science Collaboration. Its two facilities are located in Hanford, Washington, about three hours southwest of Spokane, and in Livingston Parish, Louisiana. The new project, expected to be complete in 2024, is another node in an ongoing network of gravitational wave detectors around the world.
“Unlike optical observatories, we don’t care about the quality of the night sky,” Bose tells the Inlander from India. “The sites that we choose can have cloud cover.” Instead, the detectors rely on sound, or rather, vibrations, he says.
When two major astral bodies collide, they cause ripples in the fabric of space-time, a model of our universe that combines the three dimensions of space and the one dimension of time. Albert Einstein predicted these rippling waves in his theory on general relativity in 1915, and in the last few years astronomers have been able to detect them.