A century ago, Albert Einstein published his General Theory of Relativity and part of this theory suggested that there should be waves – Gravitational Waves – which carry information about violent gravitational events in the Universe. We now know that there are very violent events associated with, for example, the coalescence of neutron stars, and the formation and interactions of black holes. However the distortions in space time associated with the waves from such events are predicted to be so small that the experimental challenges associated with detecting them have been exercising physicists for the last 50 years.
But now, 100 years after the prediction of the existence of gravitational waves, the advanced detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) have detected such signals for the first time, the source being coalescing black holes considerably heavier than the sun. This heralds the opening of a new window in astronomy.
Jim Hough has had a distinguished career in Physics and is an international leader in the search for gravitational waves. He has been awarded an OBE for services to science and is a Fellow of the Royal Society, among many other accolades. In this talk, Jim will explain the nature of gravitational waves, describe what sources can produce them, explain the engineering background to LIGO, and outline the UK contribution that allowed the detection to be made. Further, Jim will discuss plans for future detectors on earth and in space.
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