The Odessa Record -

Science students visit LIGO observatory


November 30, 2017

--Courtesy photo.

Odessa High School science students recently visited and toured the LIGO Observatory at Hanford, a research facility that helped earn the Nobel Prize in Physics for their research in observing the universe's gravitational waves.

On November 15, a scientific crew of 30 headed to the Tri-Cities to visit the recently awarded Nobel Prize facility called LIGO. As you may or may not know, the local Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory in Hanford recently helped earn the Nobel Prize in Physics for their research in observing the universe's gravitational waves for the very first time since Einstein predicted them in 1916.

Since we live so close to a Nobel Prize-winning research facility, we thought it would be interesting to visit, tour and congratulate this research facility. The observatory is located about 10 miles outside of Richland in the barren fields of the Hanford site. The tour started with an introduction by Amber Strunk, LIGO's educational outreach coordinator. She explained that although it is considered one observatory, LIGO comprises four distinct facilities across the United States: Two gravitational wave detectors (the interferometers) and two university research centers. The interferometers are located in isolated areas of Washington (LIGO Hanford) and Louisiana (LIGO Livingston) and separated by 3,002 km (1,865 miles). The two primary research centers are located at The California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in Pasadena, Calif. and The Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass. Comprising the world's largest precision optical instruments and the world's second-largest vacuum systems, LIGO is a marvel of engineering and human ingenuity. Construction of LIGO's original gravitational wave detectors was completed in 1999, and the first search for gravitational waves began in 2002.

In 1916, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves as 'ripples' in the fabric of space-time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the universe. For example, if two stars circle one another until they collide, the gravitational 'ripple' would travel unnoticed through space-time and pass through all and any objects in its path, such as Earth or even you!

The Hanford and Livingston LIGOs can detect the smallest motion that makes the 2.5-mile-long laser quiver, again unnoticed by the human eye but detectable by a highly calibrated computer. The Hanford LIGO can detect when the Seahawks score based on the ripples made by the cheering crowd in the stadium 200 miles away. Once one of the LIGO observatories notices any activity made by their laser interferometer, it immediately checks with the other LIGO observatory to see if it also had the same detection. If not, it was a local anomaly caused by a local event. But if both the Livingston and the Hanford LIGO observatories share very similar data, and the time delay fits their calculations, and there was not a world event such as an earthquake or volcanic activity, then the result must be the pulse of gravitational waves created in outer space.

On September 14, 2015, the LIGO team observed the universe's gravitational waves for the very first time. On October 3, 2017, the LIGO team was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for "decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves." Congratulations to team LIGO and to our own Hanford observatory. We had a fantastic day! The trip was approved by the Odessa School District, with Danielle Scrupps and Don Strebeck acting as chaperones and Leland Smith as bus driver.

For more about LIGO's scientific journey and their path to the Nobel Prize, follow the link:

LIGO Hanford's website can be found at


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