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Probing the Universe with LIGO: A Nobel Prize Winning Project

October 10 @ 6:00 pm - 7:30 pm


Montauk Observatory, Stony Brook University and Brookhaven National Laboratory are honored to host this presentation by 2017 Nobel Laureate, Dr. Rainer Weiss, who will discuss his interesting (and sometimes amusing) history, as well as the history of the LIGO project, of gravitational waves and their significance to our understanding of the Universe, and his vision for the future of gravitational wave astronomy. The lecture will be followed by a reception.

What are gravitational waves and why are they important? Imagine a pond. Now picture a boat sailing across the pond; the movement of that boat will disturb the water, causing ripples that spread outward, away from the boat. As the size of the boat increases and as its speed increases, the more the water will be disturbed and result in larger ripples or waves. The movement of the boat will also affect other objects in the water, much like the gravitational pull of one celestial object impacts the objects around it. If you think of the Universe as that pond and celestial objects like stars as the boats, you'll have a rudimentary understanding of gravitational waves: As the stars move, they cause gravitational ripples or waves, thus disturbing the pond, that is, distorting the space-time fabric that exists around them.

As part of his theory of general relativity, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves, but he assumed that they would be impossible to detect from earth and he was right—right until September 14, 2015 when the Laser Interferometric Gravitational Observatory (LIGO) detected the first gravitational waves (they were generated by two black holes that collided; it took 1.3 billion light years for the waves to arrive at the LIGO detector).

The data collected by LIGO allows us to observe the Universe in a unique way and, thus, acquire a better understanding of it and of such events as exploding stars, the collision of black holes, and even the birth of the Universe. Without exaggeration, LIGO is revolutionizing the fields of physics and astrophysics.

The initial design for the LIGO detector was conceived 50 years ago by Dr. Weiss and first funded in 1990. Over a thousand researchers from twenty countries collaborated on the LIGO project. In 2017, the LIGO team won the Nobel Prize in Physics: half the award went to Weiss, while the other half was shared by Kip Thorne and Barry Barish of CalTech for their creation of the equipment and its detection of gravitational waves.

Dr. Rainer Weiss, is Professor Emeritus of Physics at MIT. His long, distinguished career was foreshadowed by his interest in electronics and radio technology when he was a boy in New York City. He was a leading researcher in cosmic microwave background radiation at MIT and oversaw a scientific working group for NASA’s Cosmic Background Explorer (COBE) satellite, the measurements of which helped support the Big Bang Theory.


October 10
6:00 pm - 7:30 pm
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