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Dr Jonathan Gair - Gravitational wave astronomy - a new window on the Universe

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The existence of gravitational waves—small fluctuations in gravitational fields that propagate at the speed of light—was shown to be an inevitable consequence of general relativity more than a century ago, but there have not yet been any direct detections of these waves by man-made detectors. This will all change spectacularly in the next decade. A network of ground-based gravitational wave detectors— LIGO , GEO, Virgo and TAMA —has been constructed and these are presently being upgraded to a sensitivity at which the first gravitational wave detections are likely. There are ambitious plans for a space-based milli-Hertz gravitational wave detector, eLISA, which should be launched in the next ten to fifteen years and there are ongoing efforts to detect gravitational waves using radio telescopes through the accurate timing of networks of pulsars. These forthcoming gravitational wave observations will transform our understanding of the astrophysics of the systems generating them and the black holes that these systems typically contain. Gravitational wave observations also have strong potential for fundamental physics, as they will enable us to make precise tests of the theory of general relativity in a hitherto unexplored regime. I will describe the current status of and prospects for current and planned gravitational wave detection experiments, I will discuss the likely sources of gravitational waves for these instruments and outline some of the potential scientific applications of these observations to astrophysics, cosmology and fundamental physics.

The talk is free for CUPS members, £2 for non-members, and will be followed by a wine reception.

This talk is part of the Cambridge University Physics Society series.

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