Research install a quantum “squeezer” device into one of LIGO’s gravity wave detectors. Image: Lisa Barsotti
The world’s premier gravity wave detectors are now using so-called quantum vacuum “squeezers” to reduce the subtle “noise” generated by vanishingly small fluctuations in the vacuum of space that otherwise might prevent the detection of weaker gravitational signals from colliding neutron stars, black holes and other extreme events.
The technology, in use at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, in the United States and at the European Virgo collaboration, has led to dramatically improved sensitivity, increasing the range of the instruments. LIGO, for example, has seen a 15 percent increase in range while the Virgo instrument has enjoyed a 26 percent boost in its ability to detect merging neutron stars.
“When the rate of detection goes up, not only do we understand more about the sources we know, because we have more to study, but our potential for discovering unknown things comes in,” said Nergis Mavalvala, the Marble Professor of Astrophysics and associate head of the Department of Physics at MIT. “We’re casting a broader net.”
LIGO consists of two identical detectors, one near Livingston, Louisiana, and the other at Hanford, Washington. Both ...