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A Listening Post into Space

GEO600 is a ground-based interferometric gravitational wave detector located near Hannover, Germany. It is designed and operated by scientists from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, along with partners in the United Kingdom and is funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC). GEO600 is part of a worldwide network of gravitational wave detectors. Two detectors have been constructed in the USA (LIGO), and one each in Italy (Virgo) and Japan (KAGRA). Scientists from GEO600 and LIGO collaborate within the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC). GEO600 scientists together with the Laser Zentrum Hannover (LZH) built the lasers for Advanced LIGO.

GEO600 High-Tech

Scientists at GEO600 have pushed the available technologies to the limits: laser stabilization, absorption-free optics, control engineering, vibration damping and data acquisition and processing got new impulses. A specialty of GEO600 is the amplification of laser light and signal called “dual recycling”: by means of additional mirrors the light going back to the laser as well as the signal at the output port is superposed constructively with itself and thus is enhanced. The suspension of the mirror on glass fibers is anther one of the many groundbreaking developments of GEO600. GEO600 is also the first gravitational wave detector that uses squeezed laser light in order to improve sensitivity!

A highly stable laser
In close cooperation of AEI and LZH a new type of high-performance laser has been developed for use in the next generation of gravitational wave detectors. These new lasers have been installed in the Advanced LIGO project. A special feature is that it provides 200 Watt of power at a wavelength of 1064 nanometers. Its unsurpassed stability in both output power and frequency is what makes the high sensitivity of the new generation of gravitational wave detectors possible.

Quiet light
GEO600 sensitivity has now reached the limits set by the laws of nature. At frequencies around 1000 Hz – exactly where signals from supernovae and the birth of neutron stars are expected – the quantum nature of light comes into play. Just like pellets fired from a shotgun, individual photons will hit the detector at an uneven rate. Because of quantum fluctuations resulting from the Uncertainty Principle, this ‘shot-noise’ will show up as a fluctuating background signal that could completely obscure the expected short gravitational wave signal from the event itself. GEO scientists have managed to tame this unwanted signal noise by manipulating the fluctuations so as to produce what is called “squeezed light”. GEO600 was upgraded with a source of squeezed light in mid-2010 and has since been testing it under operating conditions.

Monolithic suspensions
The central elements in all gravitational wave detectors are mirrors weighing up to 10 kg, which are used to direct the laser beams. These mirrors are suspended as pendulums, so that they are isolated from various disturbances. The mirror suspensions must meet several special requirements: they have to hold the heavy mirrors securely and must not cause disturbances of their own.
The Institute for Gravitational Research (IGR) of the University of Glasgow has developed suspensions meeting these requirements: thin threads made of quartz glass – fused silica fibres. Such fibres have far less internal losses than equivalent steel wires, for instance. They are bonded directly onto the mirrors and a second pendulum mass, which means there is no friction at the point of contact. This increases the overall sensitivity of GEO600 through reduced mechanical loss.

Advanced LIGO Documentary Project

LIGO: A discovery that shook the world - Episode 3
"Mirrors that hang on glass threads"

Actuators
Many of the disturbing influences in a gravitational wave detector are seismic in origin. They are especially noticeable when making measurements in the low-frequency range below 100 Hz. To reduce their influence, the Glasgow scientists have developed a multiple pendulum system which works to dampen these disturbances. They can reduce external vibration by nine orders of magnitude. In addition, the individual components of the pendulum are driven by electromagnetic or electrostatic actuators to reduce the residual noise. The result is that only an earthquake with the strength of 6 and above on the Richter scale occurring anywhere in the world can jolt the gravitational wave detector out of alignment. In all, 260 control loops are needed to move the mirror back into alignment, hold it there and dampen external vibrations on the system.

Tuned signal recycling
GEO600 is the only detector amplifying the signal of the laser beam. A special signal-recycling mirror at the signal exit reflects the interference beam back into the interferometer so that the part of the laser light containing the expected gravitational wave signal is amplified. This process is repeated until the signal is 10 times stronger. GEO600's signal recycling mirror especially can amplify the signal in a broad frequency band. Tuned signal recycling is one of the main reasons why GEO600 has a similar sensitivity to Virgo at higher frequencies, despite its shorter arm lengths. The advanced LIGO is already using this technique and the Virgo detector will also use this technology.

Squeezed light
In 2011 a squeezed-light laser was installed in GEO600. Now, GEO600 uses two lasers: its standard laser of about 10 W power, and the new squeezed-light laser that just adds a few entangled photons per second but significantly improves the sensitivity of GEO600.

Listening to the Universe

Gravitational wave astronomy will open an entire new window on our Universe. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space and time produced by violent events in the distant universe, for example by the collision of two black holes or by the cores of supernova explosions. Gravitational waves are emitted by accelerating masses much in the same way as radio waves are produced by accelerating charges – for example, such as electrons in antennas. These ripples in the space-time fabric travel to Earth, bringing with them information about their violent origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot be obtained by other astronomical tools.

Einstein's Prediction

Albert Einstein predicted the existence of these gravitational waves in 1916 in his general theory of relativity, but only since the 1990s has technology become powerful enough to permit detecting them and harnessing them for science. Although they have not yet been detected directly, the influence of gravitational waves on a binary pulsar system (two neutron stars orbiting each other) has been measured accurately and is in excellent agreement with the predictions. In 1993 R. A. Hulse and J. H. Taylor received the Nobel Prize in physics for that indirect proof. Scientists therefore have great confidence that gravitational waves exist. But a direct detection will confirm Einstein’s vision of the waves, and allow a fascinating and unique view of cataclysms in the cosmos.

The first direct detection

For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, confirming Einstein’s prediction and opening an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.

The gravitational waves were detected on September 14, 2015 at 9:51 UTC by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors, located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, USA.

Gravitational waves carry information about their dramatic origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained. The detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.

 
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