Magazine article Science News

Two Sites for Catching Gravitational Waves

Magazine article Science News

Two Sites for Catching Gravitational Waves

Article excerpt

Situated on an arid plateau in central Washington state, the Department of Energy's vast Hanford Reservation has long served as a center for the extraction of plutonium from spent nuclear fuel. Last week, the National Science Foundation (NSF) designated a site on the Hanford Reservation as one of two locations for the twin facilities of a unique, sophisticated observatory dedicated to the detection of a very different, much more elusive type of radiation - gravitational waves. The other chosen site lies in a flat, wooded area near Livingston, La., about 30 miles east of Baton Rouge.

Following more than a decade of feasibility studies and political wrangling, this decision clears the way for construction of the Laser Interferometer Grvitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). "Overall, I am convinced that the Louisiana-Washington sites will best serve the scientific objectives of this important project," says NSF Director Walter E. Massey, who made the decision.

Consisting of two facilities separated by at least 2,400 kilometers but operating in unison to avoid false signals, the observatory will cost about $210 million and take five years to build. Last October, Congress approved $23.5 million in first-year funding to cover the costs of selecting the sites, completing the engineering design of the facilities and starting site preparation.

The building of LIGO represents a bold gamble to detect the distinctive imprint of gravitational waves resulting from such violent cosmic events as the collapse of stellar cores and collisions between black holes. …

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