Getting to know our universe in its infancy

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory

How did the universe look like seconds after its birth? 

Nobody knows the answer, yet. But researchers from 76 institutes all over the world have established the credibility of a unique detector that could be exploited to open a completely new window to peek into the early universe, seconds after its birth.

And when the search window opens in 2014, there is a slim chance of a group of Indian scientists joining in the international initiative to peep into baby universe. 

Analysing data collected between 2005 and 2007, more than hundred researchers from the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) and the European VIRGO team reported in Nature that the unique observatory can listen to the gravitational echoes from the birth pangs of the universe. 

The Big Bang is believed to have created a flood of gravitational waves –– sub-atomic ripples in the fabric of space and time – that carry new information about the universe immediately after the Big Bang. 

Once detected they can provide a window to see the universe in the first few seconds. Currently, scientists can see the universe 380,000 years after its birth.

But elusive gravity waves are difficult to catch because the ripples are extraordinarily small. Over the distance between Earth and the star Alpha Centauri — 4.3 light years — a gravitational wave would warp space by as little as the thickness of a human hair.
It is possible to observe these waves using detector of high sensitivity. LIGO –– the world’s first such detector –– was searching for those waves since 2002.
VIRGO, a similar observatory in Italy, joined the search in 2007. 

Upper ceiling

Probing the universe in its first few seconds, scientists discovered the upper ceiling on the number of gravity waves that would have been generated by the Big Bang. “We now know more about parameters that describe evolution of the universe when it was less than one minute old,” said Vuk Mandic, at the University of Minnesota.

The existence of gravity waves was predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916. However, technology has to advance up to 21st century for realising a detector of extraordinary sensitivity like LIGO.  However, LIGO is not good enough to actually detect a gravity wave.

“Sensitivities of LIGO have to increase much more for actually detecting a gravity wave. Many optics and sub-systems needs to be changed,” Sanjiv Dhurandhar, the sole Indian author in the Nature paper, told Deccan Herald.

Dhurandhar, a professor at Inter University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics at Pune said the new finding is a “proof of concept”, which sets the course for LIGO’s primary objective of detecting the gravity waves. IUCAA is the only Indian institute to be part of LIGO Scientific Collaboration. 

Indian scientists are discussing the chances of partnering the Advanced LIGO project that will become operational by 2014 to look for those gravity waves. The decision will depend on the nature of scientific goals proposed by Dhurandhar and his colleagues along with availability of resources and manpower.

LIGO is located in two locations – Livingstone in Louisiana and Hanford in Washington, each having two long arms. The two separate L-shaped detectors operate in unison as a single observatory. 

DH News Service

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