New science to revolutionise astronomy
Friday, 9 January 2009
Australia is set to play a major role in the revolutionary new astronomical field of observing ripples in the curvature of space-time, thanks to funding from a three-way partnership of the Australian Research Council, The Australian National University and the University of Adelaide.
The Australian funding of $2.4 million will go towards the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatories (LIGO) project. Advanced LIGO will be the first gravitational wave observatory capable of frequent observation of known sources of gravitational waves and will lead to the birth of gravitational wave astronomy.
The seven-year project will see technology installed at LIGO observatories in Washington and Louisiana in the USA and cost around US$200 million. Australia is the third international partner of the project and the local funding will be spent in Australia building and installing deliverables for Advanced LIGO.
Australian Project Leader and Director of the ANU Centre for Gravitational Physics Professor David McClelland said the project will open up a whole new field of research for astronomers.
"Advanced LIGO is being set up to observe gravitational waves, or ripples in the curvature of space-time, predicted to exist by Einstein some 92 years ago. Their observation will open a new field of astronomy and has the potential to revolutionise our understanding of the cosmos," he said.
"Direct detection of gravitational waves will allow a new way of sensing the universe - akin to using our sense of hearing for the first time. It will reveal processes which occur in the very core of cataclysmic astrophysical events and at the earliest moments of the Big Bang. New events will be recorded igniting a revolution in astronomy, comparable with the advent of radio astronomy."
He added that by becoming a partner with the project Australia gained the opportunity to play a leading role in the development of the new academic field which would open up new opportunities for Australian scientists.
"Playing a key role in this facility, Australia will reap the scientific and technical rewards of being part of the most exciting frontier of physics in the 21st Century, whilst training scientists and technologists for tomorrow," he said.
University of Adelaide Project Leader and current Chair of the Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy (ACIGA) Professor Jesper Munch said the Australian contributions to LIGO had been developed in Australia with previous ARC support.
"They are not only essential and key components required for the success of LIGO, but are also of significant interest to other projects and the Australian precision industry," he said.
"The students working on these projects receive an education second to none in the world. Their efforts are paving the way towards a possible Australian based detector," he said
For more information on the Advanced LIGO project see: http://www.ligo.caltech.edu/advLIGO/ .
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