It’s been three years since the Laser Interferometric Gavitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) went down for some major upgrades. Now, LIGO is finally up and running again, and this time it’s ready to help fully decipher the mysteries of gravitational waves. But what exactly is LIGO, and what mysteries can it help us solve?
Well, the main goal with LIGO is to get a better understanding of how gravitational waves work, and how Einstein’s theories could help us better understand the cosmos as a whole.
See, the idea of gravitational waves and what we know as gravity was first speculated in Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which said that mass and energy can warp the very shape of space and time. This is the basis of gravity — that the bending of spacetime can effect how objects move in relation to one another. We see it all the time with black holes, stars, and other cosmic objects.
Now, though, with LIGO, we may finally be able to get a clearer picture of what Einstein was trying to say. To measure gravitational waves using LIGO, researchers essentially shine a giant laser from the center of the facility to the base of the L. From there, the laser is split, allowing the beam to travel down each arm of the observatory, reflecting off a mirror and back to the base.
From there, researchers have to wait for gravitational waves to pass through the laser, as these waves aren’t impeded by planets, dust, stars, black holes, or any other object in the cosmos that we know of. When they pass through, they can measure them, take down the data, and compare it to older data, especially now that LIGO has been upgraded even more.
The hope is that the observatory’s various locations will provide a deeper insight into how gravitational waves affect our universe ultimately. This, they believe, will help us better understand how Einstein’s wildest theories about general relativity actually relate to our world and the physics that govern it.
It is, of course, still a long shot, but even having a small understanding of the way our universe is governed could break down research barriers for decades to come. And with observatories like the James Webb space telescope peering deeper into our universe’s history than ever, it’s only a matter of time before the mysteries of the cosmos indeed start to unravel before us.