LIGO's Impact on Science

Gravitational wave detectors like LIGO will answer some outstanding questions related to gravitation and astrophysics, such as:

  • Is general relativity the correct theory of gravity?
  • How does matter behave under extreme densities and pressures?
  • How abundant are stellar-mass black holes?
  • What is the central engine driving gamma ray bursts?
  • What happens when a massive star collapses?

LIGO will also directly engage the scientific community in “multi-messenger astronomy”, a growing trend of collaboration where gravitational wave detectors and various kinds of telescopes will be used to observe astronomical sources with a variety of probes including gravitational waves, electromagnetic radiation (visible light, x-rays, gamma rays, radio waves, etc.) and even with neutrinos, all at the same time. Each method of observing provides a different look at the same objects or phenomena allowing them to be studied in multiple ways and revealing relationships and interactions never before observed.

Last but not least, through its advances in technology and scientific methods, LIGO also contributes to other fields of science and to the broader technology enterprise.

LIGO and Astronomy

The direct detection of gravitational waves requires multiple detections from widely separated sites. To enhance detection capabilities, LIGO researchers are working closely with gravitational wave researchers at Virgo in Italy and GEO600 in Germany, they are assisting the Japanese as they build KAGRA,  and for years LIGO staff have been training Indian engineers to prepare for the construction of the third LIGO interfereometer in India.

Now that LIGO has detected gravitational waves, the next steps in the emerging field of gravitational wave astronomy will involve beginning to understand the nature, dynamics, and structure of gravitational waves sources. The ultimate goal (not yet achieved) is to use a world-wide network of gravitational wave detectors to quickly and precisely pinpoint the location of gravitational wave sources on the sky so that LIGO's astronomical partners can immediately participate in the search to uhshroud the sources of these enigmatic vibrations in space time. Optical, x-ray, radio, infrared and gamma ray telescopes, as well as neutrino detectors are at the ready ready to be called to action for this purpoose. The rewards to the EM astronomical community in following-up LIGO detections have not yet been fully realized, but the potential for discovery is undeniable. This ‘multi-messenger’ astronomy represents one of the largest collaborations that LIGO and other detectors will help to facilitate amongst the global scientific community. LIGO will be one of many at the heart of this new scientific endeavor, which promises to be extremely fruitful for all involved.

LIGO's Impact on the Broader Scientific and Technical Community

LIGO’s impact (and the impact of its sister facilities) reaches far beyond physics, astrophysics, and astronomy. The effort to design and build detectors like LIGO and to understand the characteristics of the expected gravitational wave signals have resulted in multiple scientific and technological applications and advancements in many fields such as those listed in the table below.

Technology Transfer Table_Other Science Impacts

LIGO's impact on technology advancement and invention has expanded beyond astronomy and astrophysics. Several other fields are benefiting from LIGO's development. (List from Gravitational Waves International Committee (GWIC) document, “The future of gravitational wave astronomy: A global plan”)

Scientists and engineers in these fields are already benefitting and will continue to benefit from advances gravitational wave detector technology and data analysis methods developed by LIGO.

For a deeper discussion on the ways in which gravitational wave science impacts the broader scientific community, you may want to read the Gravitational Waves International Committee (GWIC) document, “The future of gravitational wave astronomy: A global plan”.

Transfer of LIGO Technology Developments to the Broader Technology Enterprise

During its development, LIGO has already spawned innovative technology and invention. Innovations in areas as diverse as lasers, optics, metrology, vacuum technology, chemical bonding, and software algorithm development have resulted directly from LIGO’s pioneering work. Some of these ‘spin-off’ technologies are listed in the table below. More about each one can be found in the Advanced LIGO Technology Transfer page.

Technology Transfer Table

Several areas of science and engineering have been advanced or invented as a result of LIGO's development.