PASADENA— Nobel Prize-winning biologist David Baltimore will lead the campus delegation Monday, November 10, for the first media open-house at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) site near Livingston, Louisiana.
Baltimore, who assumed the duties of president at Caltech last month, is one of several scientists who will be on hand for interviews during the morning tour. This is the first opportunity for members of the news media to tour the facility during the faton and one at Hanford, Washington. The two detectors will work together to detect an elusive phenomenon known as gravitational waves, which are distortions of space-time caused by accelerating masses, such as exploding stars or vibrating black holes.
The LIGO detectors are set up in such a way that the very slight distortions of space-time in the vicinity of the two-and-one-half mile long L-shaped arms of the detector's antennae will cause them to stretch or shrink. This shrinkage is fantastically small—about equal to one-thousandth the diameter of a proton. This nearly imperceptible change is measured with precisely tuned laser beams located within the antennae.
Coincident observation of this phenomenon in two separate detectors is necessary to confirm the detection of gravitational waves, which were first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1915 in his work on general relativity. Also, two detectors are necessary to ascertain that the signals come from space and are not due to some local effect. The two LIGO sites will both be fully functional and working in concert by the end of 2001.
Caltech Media Relations will have press materials on hand at the event. Additional information is also available at the LIGO Web site, which can be accessed at the address http://www.ligo.caltech.edu.