Vol 10, No 10 (2010) / Vinet

Optical gravitational wave detectors on the ground and in space: theory and technology

Jean-Yves Vinet


Major predictions of General Relativity, unforeseen at the beginning of the preceding century, are now under investigation. The existence of black holes of any mass from tens to billions of solar masses is now established, and the physics around these objects begins to be studied through direct observations in a wide electromag- netic spectrum from visible light to X-rays. General relativity, however, provides an extra medium which carries more information on the regions of intense gravitational field, namely gravitational waves (GWs). Due to their extremely weak coupling to matter, GWs are precisely generated in those regions of spacetime undergoing strong curvature, which is very exciting for modern astrophysics. On the other hand, this weak coupling makes it difficult for GWs to cause appreciable effects in human made instruments. This is why technology of GW detectors took such a long time to reach a sensitivity level consistent with GW amplitudes predicted by theoretical models of sources. In the present status, apart from resonant solid detectors, two large interfer- ometric antennas (LIGO in the USA and the French-Italian Virgo) are beginning to produce data, and a joint ESA-NASA space mission, resulting from a wide effort of European and American groups, is reaching a crucial approval phase. The aim of the present review is to give the theoretical bases of GW detectors using light.


gravitation — gravitational waves — interferometry

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