Gravitational waves observatories network

Gravitational waves generated through space-time by a binary couple of neutron stars. The displacement of these massive objects produce an energy loss which escape in the form of gravitational waves - Courtesy R. Hurt/Caltech-JPL

This article concerns a particular type of infrastructure used to observe our universe. We will expose the interests of interconnecting future gravitational wave observatories and why their gradual number increase should matter. We will also discuss the benefits of a gravitational waves observatory positioned in space.


Gravitational waves: The theory of relativity written by Albert Einstein in 1916 predicts the existence of gravitational waves. In physics, a gravitational wave, sometimes called a wave of gravitation, is an oscillation of the space-time curvature that is spreading from its point of formation (eg: a black hole). Despite intensives researchs during the last century, the existence of these waves was only confirmed in 2016 (a century later), after the first observation made in September 14, 2015, by the researchers from the LIGO observatory. This historic step opened a new field of observation of the universe.

Gravitational wave observatory: Currently, there are about ten gravitational wave observatories on Earth. Half a dozen additional observatories is planned to be constructed before 2040. The LIGO observatory located in the United States, which has confirmed the existence of gravitational waves, has three interferometric detectors. Interferometric detectors capture the distortions of space-time induced by the passage of gravitational waves by measuring with very great precision ─ the minor differences in the length of two laser beams.

Project LISA: The European Space Agency (ESA) wants to place a gravitational wave observatory in space by 2034 with the LISA project. This project has major advantages: for example, a spatial interferometric detector would not be sensitive to terrestrial seismic noise (residual interferences of Earth seismic movements), which could greatly increases the accuracy of gravitational waves observations we could do, and perhaps allow humankind to ─ maybe ─ understand the physics of black holes.

Artistic representation of the LISA project, planned by ESA to detect gravitational waves. It will be the first gravitational wave observatory placed in space. This project consists in detecting the disturbances induced by the passage of a gravitational wave by accurately measuring the length of the laser arms connecting the 3 modules - NASA 2013

Idea shot :

The main idea in this article is to stimulate the interconnection of gravitational wave detectors for different reasons (as I started to think about it back in 2017). To carry out this project, all the data collected by each gravitational wave observatory should be exchanged continuously and automatically processed so they could form a network (when active). Taking into account the measurements of each gravitational wave detector in real time will probably require a lot of work on the network infrastructure, but could lead to a better understanding of our universe.

In the long run, this project could lead ─ for each new detector added to the network ─ to a improvement of a set of techniques. With this process, during the observation of cosmic events (like the merging of two black holes for example), crossing the gathered data could enable a more precise analysis, hypothetically exponentially growing with the spatial distance between each gravitational wave detector. This way, by carrying out an analytical work on the collected data, we would be able to generate a real time cartography of the local and extralocal gravitational movements (in other words, create a gravitational map of our environment).

Otherwise, thanks to this distributed and more precise network, we could upgrade our practical use of celestial mechanics, for example our exploitation of Hohmann transfer orbits ─ which allows an object such as a satellite to exploit the gravity of a celestial object to correct its trajectory or obtain additional thrust ─ if the network is sensitive enough.

Open to thoughts:

Following this perspective, analyzing gravitational distortions could have a very important use for systems requiring gravitational stability in the future ─ such as a spatial quantum computer ─ or bringing up a new paradigme for the Fermi paradox.


This idea is slowly taking form with the newly signed agreement of October 4, 2019, between three gravitational wave detectors to begin joint observation.

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