Virgo detector joins LIGO in the search for gravitational waves


THIRD WAVE  The Virgo detector, shown above, has begun searching for gravitational waves. Located in Pisa, Italy, Virgo joins the two LIGO detectors in the quest.

Courtesy of Virgo

A third gravitational wave detector is now hunting for subtle ripples in the fabric of spacetime.

The Virgo detector, located near Pisa, Italy, officially joined the two detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, LIGO, on August 1. Together the three detectors will be able to better pinpoint the source of detected gravitational waves.

LIGO has so far detected three sets of gravitational waves from colliding black holes. In the future, observations with all three detectors could allow telescopes to zero in on the sources and look for light from the cosmic cataclysms that generate the waves.

The Virgo detector consists of two arms, each 3 kilometers long. Laser light bounces back and forth in the arms, acting like a measuring stick for distortions of spacetime. The design is similar to LIGO’s two detectors in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La., which each boast a pair of 4-kilometer-long arms.

All three detectors will collect data until August 25, when scientists will shift to working on improving the trio’s detection capabilities. The next round of data-taking will begin in fall 2018.

Physics writer Emily Conover has a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago. She is a two-time winner of the D.C. Science Writers’ Association Newsbrief award.

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