Colliding neutron stars and black holes, supernova events, rotating neutron stars and other cataclysmic cosmic events… Einstein predicted they would all have something in common – oscillations in the fabric of space-time. This summer European scientists have joined forces to prove Einstein was right and capture evidence of the existence of gravitational waves. Europe’s two ground-based gravitational wave detectors GEO600 (a German/UK collaboration) and Virgo (a collaboration between Italy, France, the Netherlands, Poland and Hungary) are underway with a joint observation program which will continue over the summer, ending in September 2011. The detectors consist of a pair of joined arms placed in a horizontal L-shaped configuration. Laser beams are then passed down the arms. Suspended under vacuum at the ends of the arms is a mirror which returns the beam to a central photodetector. The detectors work by measuring tiny changes (less than the diameter of a proton), caused by a passing gravitational wave, in the lengths (hundreds or thousands of meters). The periodic stretching and shrinking of the arms is then recorded as interference patterns.
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Sun & Planets roughly to scale. Distances not to scale.