Uno de las experiencias científicas más notables se lleva a cabo con el detector gigante de ondas gravitacionales, GEO 600. Un equipo germano/británico, del laboratorio de Hanover [en la Baja Sajonia] trata de detectar las pequeñas ondas creadas cuando se creó el espacio-tiempo, momento cuando los “hoyos negros” se “engulleron” unos a otros o cuando se produjeron explosiones masivas de estrellas.
El éxito en estas investigaciones abrirá nuevas perspectivas en el conocimiento y prueba de cómo se inició la creación en el universo. Detectar las ondas mencionadas significará la prueba definitiva de la Teoría General de la Relatividad de Einstein. Abrirá además la puerta hacia un nuevo tipo de astronomía, es decir, aquella en la cual ya no será dependiente de la observación de la luz. Esto es necesario, pues el cosmos es obscuro; la mayor parte de su materia no puede ser observada con los telescopios tradicionales. Esta nueva visión de las cosas permitirá a los científicos probar los inicios del Universo, mediante los restos de las ondas gravitacionales producidas por el Big Bang y que aún permanecen en el espacio.
El GEO 600 está trabajando junto con un proyecto americano conocido como LIGO [Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory]. Dentro de un año se unirá a este proyecto un laboratorio italiano.
A continuación FORTIN MAPOCHO da a conocer esta importante investigación, en su versión original, presentada por Jonathan Amos reportero científico de la BBC.
One of the great scientific experiments of our age is now fully underway. A German/UK team has put the giant GEO 600 gravitational wave detector in a continuous observational mode.
The Hanover lab is trying to detect the ripples created in the fabric of space-time when black holes fall onto each other or massive stars explode.
Success would confirm fundamental physical theories and open a new window on the Universe, enabling scientists to probe the moment of creation itself.
GEO 600 is working alongside a US project known as Ligo [Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory]. It may also be joined in the hunt by an Italian lab within a year.
A confirmed detection would require the super-sensitive equipment at more than one of these widely spaced facilities to record an event simultaneously.
A NEW VIEW ON THE COSMOS
Gravitational waves are an inevitable consequence of the Theory of General Relativity
They describe the gravity force as distortions made by matter in the fabric of space-time
Any moving mass will produce gravitational waves and they propagate at the speed of light
Detectable sources should include exploding stars merging black holes and neutron stars
GEO 600 fires a laser into L-shaped tunnels to detect their very weak signal
Compelling independent corroboration would come from a spacecraft that can see the burst of gamma-ray radiation expected to accompany the cataclysmic events that produce gravitational waves.
'If there is a supernova in our vicinity during the next couple of months, our chances of detecting and measuring the resulting gravitational waves are good,' said Professor Karsten Danzmann, head of the International Centre for Gravitational Physics, which is jointly run by the Max Planck Society and the University of Hanover.
'The first step towards gravitational wave astronomy has been taken.'
Researchers are extremely confident they now have the technology to detect gravitational waves.
Observatories such as GEO 600 bounce lasers down long tunnels, hoping to pick up the fantastically small disturbances the waves should generate as they pass through the Earth.
Unlike electromagnetic waves - the light seen by traditional telescopes - gravitational waves are extremely weak. If one were to pass through the Earth it would alternately stretch its space in one dimension while squashing it in another; but the changes are tiny.
Laser interferometers are looking for disturbances in their experimental set-ups that are equivalent to mere fractions of the diameter of a proton, one of the particles that make up the nucleus of an atom.
Getting GEO 600 to approach this level of sensitivity has been an immense challenge.
'There's more to come from GEO 600; I think we're still about a factor of three away from the design sensitivity over part of the frequency range. But the sensitivity we have makes it very worthwhile stopping improvement to run for an extended period,' said Professor Jim Hough, from the Institute for Gravitational Research at Glasgow University, UK.
Achieving the necessary sensitivity has been a huge challenge
'I think the most likely event for us to detect at the moment are coalescing black holes. I'm extremely confident,' he told BBC News.
A detection would be a final test of Albert Einstein's General Theory of Relativity.
It would also usher in a new type of astronomy - one that is not dependent on the observation of light. This is necessary because most of the cosmos is 'dark'; the majority of its matter cannot be seen with traditional telescopes.
The new approach would also give scientists the opportunity to probe the Universe's earliest moments, by observing the remnant gravitational waves from the Big Bang that should still pervade all space.
Telescopes like Swift could provide totally independent corroboration
This, however, will require the super-sensitive laser technology to be launched on satellites high above the Earth. Just such as project, known as Lisa [Laser Interferometer Space Antenna], is being developed currently by the US and European space agencies.
Even before then, spacecraft may have an important role to play in corroborating ground-based observations of gravitational waves.
Satellites such as Nasa's Swift telescope can see the high-energy radiation bursts that are produced when there is an extreme event of the type that might also produce detectable gravitational waves.
A Swift alert would tell the GEO 600 team to take particular note of any anomalous signal in its data.
'It's very exciting that short gamma-ray bursts are probably due to the same sorts of sources,' explained Professor Hough.
'Immediately there's a gamma-ray burst, there's huge interest in what's happening in the gravitational wave detectors.'
* Jonathan Amos es reportero científico de la BBC.