A bigger, better space-ripple detector | MIT News | Space


The search for space-shaking ripples in the universe just got a big boost. An MIT-led effort to build a bigger, better gravitational-wave detector will receive $9 million dollars over the next three years from the National Science Foundation. The funding infusion will support the design phase for Cosmic Explorer — a next-generation gravitational-wave observatory that is expected to pick up ripples in space-time from as far back as the early universe. To do so, the observatory’s detectors are planned to span the length of a small city.

The observatory’s conceptual design takes after the detectors of LIGO — the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory that is operated by MIT and Caltech. LIGO “listens” for gravitational waves by measuring the timing of two lasers that travel from the same point, down two separate tunnels, and back again. Any difference in their arrival times can be a signal that a gravitational wave passed through the L-shaped detector. LIGO includes two twin detectors, sited in different locations in the United States. A similar set of detectors, Virgo, operates in Italy, along with a third, KAGRA, in Japan.

Together, this existing network of detectors picks up ripples from gravitational-wave sources, such as merging black holes and neutron stars, every few days. Cosmic Explorer, scientists believe, should bump that rate up to a signal every few minutes. The science coming out of these detections could provide answers to some of the biggest questions in cosmology.

MIT News checked in with Cosmic Explorer’s executive director, Matthew Evans, who is a professor of physics at MIT, and co-principal investigator Salvatore Vitale, associate professor of physics at MIT, about what they hope to hear from the earliest universe.

Q: Walk us through the general idea for Cosmic Explorer — what will make it a “next-generation” detector of gravitational waves?

Evans: Cosmic Explorer is in some…

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