A new gravitational wave detector is almost ready to join the search

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Japan’s KAGRA experiment tests new techniques for spotting ripples in spacetime

KAGRA experiment

DEEP AND COLD  Chilled mirrors and an underground hideout (shown) should help the KAGRA experiment in its upcoming search for gravitational waves.

In the quest for better gravitational wave detectors, scientists are going cold.

An up-and-coming detector called KAGRA aims to spot spacetime ripples by harnessing advanced technological twists: chilling key components to temperatures hovering just above absolute zero, and placing the ultrasensitive setup in an enormous underground cavern.

Scientists with KAGRA, located in Kamioka, Japan, now have results from their first ultrafrigid tests. Those experiments suggest that the detector should be ready to start searching for gravitational waves later in 2019, the team reports January 14 at arXiv.org.

The new detector will join similar observatories in the search for the minute cosmic undulations, which are stirred up by violent events like collisions of black holes. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, LIGO, has two detectors located in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La. Another observatory, Virgo, is located near Pisa, Italy. Those detectors sit above ground, and don’t use the cooling technique, making KAGRA the first of its kind.

KAGRA consists of two three-kilometer-long arms, arranged in an “L” shape. Within each arm, laser light bounces back and forth between two mirrors located at both ends. The light acts like a giant measuring stick, capturing tiny changes in the length of each arm, which can be caused by a passing gravitational wave stretching and squeezing spacetime.


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