What is LIGO-India, the Indian node in the global network of labs to probe the universe

Source: The post is based on the article “What is LIGO-India, the Indian node in the global network of labs to probe the universe” published in Indian Express on 10th April 2023

What is the News?

The Government of India has given a go-ahead to Rs 2,600-crore project for setting up a Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory-India (LIGO-India) in the Hingoli district in Maharashtra. 

What is the LIGO Project?

LIGO is the world’s most powerful observatory that exploits the physical properties of light and of space itself to detect and understand the origins of gravitational waves.

What are Gravitational Waves?

A gravitational wave is an invisible (yet incredibly fast) ripple in space. Gravitational waves travel at the speed of light (186,000 miles per second). These waves squeeze and stretch anything in their path as they pass by. Albert Einstein originally predicted the existence of gravitational waves in 1916, on the basis of his Theory of General Relativity.

The most powerful gravitational waves are created when objects move at very high speeds. Some examples of events that could cause a gravitational wave are:

– when a star explodes asymmetrically (called a supernova)

– when two big stars orbit each other

– when two black holes orbit each other and merge

When was Gravitational waves first detected?

The first-ever detection of a gravitational wave happened on September 14, 2015, by the two US-based LIGO detectors. These gravitational waves were produced by the merger of two black holes. Scientists checked the results for four months before announcing their result in 2016.

This achievement was promptly rewarded with the Nobel Prize in 2017. Since then, nine more gravitational wave events have been detected by the four observatories in the United States, Europe and Japan.

What is LIGO-India Project?

LIGO-India Project
Source: TOI

LIGO-India will be an advanced gravitational-wave observatory to be located in Maharashtra, India, as part of a worldwide network. It is envisaged as a collaborative project between a consortium of Indian research institutions and the LIGO Laboratory in the USA, along with its international partners.

It will be built by the Department of Atomic Energy and the Department of Science and Technology, with a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the National Science Foundation, the US, along with other institutions.

LIGO-India would be the fifth node of this international network of gravitational wave observatories, and possibly the last. 

Why does the LIGO-India Project matter for India?

Benefits of LIGO-India Project
Source: Economic Times

For India, LIGO is a momentous milestone. India has been an active collaborator in a number of international science projects. These include the Large Hadron Collider experiments, and ITER, the effort to create a thermonuclear reactor that would enable controlled nuclear fusion reactions.

However, India has not yet built a cutting-edge scientific facility on this scale on its own soil, something that can have huge spin-off benefits for its science and technology sector. 

The India-based Neutrino Observatory, one such facility that has been planned in India, has been facing delays. Therefore, LIGO is crucial to demonstrating India’s intent and capability to pull-off complex science projects on its own.

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