As of 4 pm this afternoon, Advanced LIGO has begun its first observing run (O1), marking the formal start of the advanced-detector era of gravitational-wave astronomy. The two Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors have been carefully upgraded over the last seven years, to reach greatly enhanced sensitivity. Having gone through several engineering runs, the detectors (located in Hanford, Washington and Livingston, Louisiana) are now collecting data and looking for astrophysical signals. The event rate for such gravitational waves is uncertain, so we will have to wait to see what we will find. After around three months of observing, the detectors will again be taken off-line for further upgrades before the second observing run next year (hopefully joined by Advanced Virgo). Researchers from Birmingham are involved in both developing the Advanced LIGO instruments and in analysing the data collected. We are extremely excited about the discoveries awaiting us!
LIGO is designed and operated by Caltech and MIT, with funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF). Advanced LIGO is funded by the NSF with significant contributions from international partners, including: in the United Kingdom, the University of Glasgow, the University of Birmingham and Cardiff University funded by the Science and Technology Facilities Council; the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, the Albert Einstein Institute, the Laser Zentrum Hannover, and the Leibniz Universität Hannover in Germany; an Australian consortium of universities, led by the Australian National University and the University of Adelaide, and supported by the Australian Research Council.