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Aggressive Timeline Proposed for Next-gen Gravitational Wave Detectors

APR 16, 2024
An NSF-commissioned report argues for the U.S. to build a new observatory to keep up with the planned Einstein Telescope in Europe.
Jacob Taylor headshot
Senior Editor for Science Policy, FYI American Institute of Physics
A beam tube at LIGO Hanford in Washington. (Jeff Keyzer)

A beam tube at LIGO Hanford in Washington.

(Jeff Keyzer)

The U.S. should aggressively pursue the construction of a new gravitational wave observatory to remain competitive in the field, according to a March report commissioned by the National Science Foundation. NSF asked an advisory panel to chart a path to a ten-fold improvement in sensitivity over the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), particularly given that Europe might build a much more sensitive detector called the Einstein Telescope.

The panel solicited detector concepts and subsequently concluded that the ideal approach is the “Cosmic Explorer” plan, which calls for the construction of a 40-km-long, L-shaped detector and possibly a second 20-km long detector if the Einstein telescope is not built. The panel also concludes that maintaining current-generation LIGO facilities “does not significantly contribute” to the science goals of this future network, with the potential exception of a LIGO variant currently under construction in India.

As a result, the panel recommends promptly phasing out the U.S. LIGO facilities when the Cosmic Explorer observatory comes online sometime between 2035 and 2040. The 40 km Cosmic Explorer observatory is estimated to cost around $1 billion and the 20 km observatory has a price tag of about $0.7 billion.

Such an initiative responds to the call for a next-generation gravitational wave detection network in the latest decadal survey for astronomy and astrophysics.

Astrophysicist Vicky Kalogera, who chaired the panel, presented the report to NSF last month and noted that it features a “rather aggressive” timeline. “Our European colleagues with the Einstein Telescope are ahead of us, and we would like to be coordinating for parallel observations,” Kalogera said.

This news brief originally appeared in FYI’s newsletter for the week of April 15.

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