LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, was designed to open the field of gravitational-wave astrophysics through the direct detection of gravitational waves predicted by Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. LIGO’s multi-kilometer-scale gravitational wave detectors use laser interferometry to measure the minute ripples in space-time caused by passing gravitational waves from cataclysmic cosmic events such as colliding neutron stars or black holes, or by supernovae. LIGO consists of two widely-separated interferometers within the United States—one in Hanford, Washington and the other in Livingston, Louisiana—operated in unison to detect gravitational waves.
LIGO is a national facility for gravitational-wave research providing opportunities for the broader scientific community to participate in detector development, observation, and data analysis. LIGO's original instrument, a largely 'proof of concept' model dubbed "Initial LIGO", engaged in "science observations" from 2002 to 2010. No detections were made in that time, but enormous strides in detector engineering were achieved as a result of what was learned during that initial run. 2010 marked the end of the Initial LIGO project, and as planned, between 2010 and 2014, both interferometers were completely overhauled to incorporate much more sophisticated engineering. This "Advanced LIGO" project successfully improved the capabilities of the detectors, and within days of beginning its first engineering run with the new and improved instruments, LIGO made its first detection of gravitational waves, generated by a pair of colliding black holes some 1.3 billion light years away. Since that historic day, LIGO's engineers have continued to improve the detectors' sensitivities. The success of these improvements is evidenced by the many more gravitational wave detections that have since been made. Ultimately, with continued refinement and upgrading, LIGO's detectors will achieve a sensitivity 10 times greater than Initial LIGO, bringing 1000 times more galaxies into our observational range.
The design and construction of LIGO was carried out by a team of scientists, engineers, and staff at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and collaborators from over 80 scientific institutions around the world that are members of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. The LSC is the primary entity responsible for exploiting the science possible with the LIGO detectors, and its members collaborate closely with the European Virgo Collaboration and the Japanese KAGRA Collaboration. It is also engaged with the greater scientific community pursuing the development of next-generation detectors.
The “LIGO Laboratory” comprises LIGO staff, scientists, and engineers based at Caltech and MIT, and the two detector sites in Washington and Louisiana. The responsibilities of LIGO Laboratory include operating the detectors, research and development aimed at further improving the capabilities of LIGO's detectors, research in the fundamental physics of gravitation, astronomy, and astrophysics, and public education and outreach. LIGO is funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation and operated by the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Click on the links on the left or below to learn more about LIGO.
- Mission: What is LIGO's scientific mission?
- Facts: Discover some interesting and fun facts related to LIGO
- Facilities: Learn more about LIGO's two detectors and its university research centers
- Timeline: LIGO timeline
- News Blog: Read about what's happening at the LIGO Lab.
- FAQ: Answers to some common questions people have about LIGO
- For Media: Contacts, pointers to press kit, fact sheet, galleries of images and videos