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LIGO: What You Need to Know

For weeks now, rumors of big news in physics have swirled through the scientific (and science-enthusiastic) community. As it turns out, the rumors are true—LIGO and Virgo, the worldwide scientific collaborations dedicated to directly detecting gravitational waves, have just announced this morning that they've observed the signal that scientists have been looking for since Einstein's theory of general relativity was postulated a full century ago! While it's still going on, you can watch a live stream of the announcement here! To help you understand what the discovery means and how it could shape the future of physics, we've put together this page as a sort of "one-stop shop" for physics enthusiasts and aspiring physicists alike.

So what ARE gravitational waves, and why have we gone through all this trouble to find them? To find out, you can check out this quick primer and then join PhysicsCentral contributor Meg Rosenburg, who'll talk you through the basics in our 2014 podcast on gravitational waves and LIGO.

LIGO is short for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. While a laser interferometer might sound complicated, you can find a breakdown of how it works, as well as an explanation of gravitational waves that uses friendly analogies, here.

For a slightly more in-depth explanation, as well as a discussion of the different types of gravitational wave detectors, dig into the Physics in Action article on gravitational waves!

Still have questions? Great! Join us at 3pm this afternoon at this link for a live Q&A session with LIGO physicist Lynn Cominsky, who'll be taking your questions via twitter and answering them on a live stream. Tweet @PhysicsCentral using the hashtag #LIGOLive any time between now and the end of the session, and we'll try to get your question answered!

If you can't make the Q&A session, it'll be posted on the blog later, along with coverage of the announcement. In the meantime, check out APS News' coverage of the discovery, and APS Physics' "Viewpoint" article on the topic. If you want to dive into the hardcore science, you can find the peer-reviewed Physical Review Letters paper describing the collaboration's results for free here.


  1. Here is a quote from an online article:
    "A gust is on the way. NOAA forecasters expect a stream of high-speed solar wind to reach Earth on Sept. 14th-15th, sparking renewed displays of high-latitude auroras."

    Did the LIGO group actually detect a gravitational wave from the merger of two black holes, or did they detect the Sun-Earth weak coupling of the helioseismic burst generated by the solar flare eruption on September 14, 2015? It is clear from the LIGO data that the phenomenon was detected by Livingston before it arrived at Hanford which is consistent with an EM pulse vectoring from the Sun. I just wonder.


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