Gravitational Physics: Exploring the Structure of Space and by Committee on Gravitational Physics, National Research

By Committee on Gravitational Physics, National Research Council

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The work of Taylor and his collaborators tracking the orbit of the binary pulsar PSR1913+16 established dramatically that gravitational waves were being emitted by the binary neutron star system, with a rate of energy loss in agreement with the predictions of general relativity. In a very real sense, that measurement can be said to have “detected” the emission of gravitational waves. But physicists’ paradigm of establishing the existence of a wave phenomenon is the set of 19th-century experiments on electromagnetic waves performed by Heinrich Hertz (1857-1894), which demonstrated not only energy loss in the transmitter, but also (1) propagation across spatial intervals large compared to the Copyright © National Academy of Sciences.

Gravitational physics is central to some of the most dramatic and large-scale phenomena in nature. The big bang, black holes, explosive gravitational collapse, quasars, pulsars, and x-ray sources are all examples. Yet because gravity couples universally to all matter, its effects are in principle observable in any physical system. Just as remarkable, just as beautiful, and just as confirming as the dramatic phenomena mentioned above are the minute, precisely observable predictions of relativistic gravity for the deviations of the paths of orbiting bodies from the laws of Newton.

Finally, in the early 1990s large interferometer construction projects were approved in several countries around the world. S. 3). ) When LIGO becomes operational in 2002, it is expected to be able to make unambiguous detections of waves with strains ∆L/L around 1 part in 1021. Similar results are expected from the 3-kilometer VIRGO interferometer (a French-Italian project located near Pisa). The British-German GEO 600-meter interferometer near Hannover has the handicap of shorter arm length, but early application of advanced interferometer technology will allow it to be competitive in some frequency ranges, at least for a while.

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