The LIGO Hanford Observatory

Trip Start Oct 10, 2009
Trip End Oct 10, 2009

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Flag of United States  , Washington
Saturday, October 10, 2009

LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory ... . There are two of them in the United States, one in Washington and one in Louisiana. There is another in Italy. L-shaped interferometers, two at the Washington site and one in Louisiana, sense gravitational waves through the sub-atomic movements of 25 pound mirors suspended at the corner and the ends of the "L".

The LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) is a dynamic group of approximately 700 scientists worldwide who have joined together in the search for gravitational waves from the the most violent events in the universe.

If you want to read the science of the facility go to or

They have movies and data enough to either fry your brain or make you start contemplating the size and depth of the Universe and jump on the bandwagon with Einstein@home.

Einstein@Home  uses computer time donated by computer owners all over the world to process data from gravitational wave detectors. Participants in Einstein@Home download software to their computers, which process gravitational wave data when not being used for other computer applications, like word processors or games. Einstein@Home doesn’t affect the performance of computers and greatly speeds up this exciting research.

Go to for more information on how YOU can help in the search of Graventational Waves . . .

In the mean time .. .Larry and I visited the Hanford LIGO facility and had a really facinating tour led by Richard L Savage, Jr., Ph.D. The Senior Scientist at the LIGO Hanford Observatory.

They had an abundance of displays explaining how the LIGO works.

Mr Savage is the first Ph.D type guy I have ever talked with who actually answered our questions in a manor that made perfect sense, which considering the topic is saying a lot.

If you want to learn about the science of the matter go to the websites above . . . these pictures are just a drop in the bucket and while I understood what Mr Savage was saying I can barely explain it to you.

There were a half a dozen cotton tail rabits on the only patch of green grass at the LIGO

There was a fire road across one leg of the LIGO where we were able to get a great view of the entire facility.

Just imagine! A government program that figured out a totally practical solution to a difficult problem. Both legs of the LIGO extend out into a desert full of tumbleweeds that collect along both legs. They got a bailing machine and bail them up and use the bails for erosion control.

I am not sure why I think this is so cool, figuring out a solution to the tumble weed issue, when they are trying to prove the theory of relativity .  . . but I do.

Seems one of the more challenging problems at the facility is figuring out how to make the VCR work . . you can get video with no sound or sound and no video .. .but that is another story. Takes a teenager to figure out . . a Ph.D. is not enough.

Another interesting item of old technology is the fact that a number of their programs still run on old computers using 5" floppies and won't even run Windows 95, so they have to maintain a certain number of older computers to keep everything working .  ..


The fall colors were really spectacular in the few plants surrounding the facility.

Mr Savage explained the various charts that are constantly monitored in the control room. They look at a myriad of charts and data searching for direct detection of gravitational waves. The waves are ripples in the fabric of space time that are predicted by Einstine's General Theory of Relativity


There was a lecture room with a couple interesting models demonstrating gravitational waves (I think) they may have just been an easy way to entertain adults.

Some time in the next 5 years they will have the Advanced LIGO Project Funded by National Science Foundation online.  Improvements in laser quality, vibration isolation, optics design and signal processing will increase the volume of space that the interferometers survey by a factor of 1000. Advanced LIGO will increase the volume of gravitational wave detections providing higher quality data for the field's growing research community.


Richard Savage
explaining the Advanced LIGO

It was a totally interesting place to visit.

Please be aware that anything I have said that sounded more than half intelegent came straight out of the brocure from the National Science Foundation that was available on the counter in the visitor center.

Jackie Whedbee

Additional information can be found at
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