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  20-08-2009: THE “THUNDER” OF THE UNIVERSE 
 COMPLETE LIST 
Aerial view of Virgo interferometer
Aerial view of Virgo interferometer

© Copyright INFN The use of photos is free of charge. Please request authorisation from the INFN Communication Office


The international collaboration LIGO-VIRGO, which sees Italy participating in with the National Institute for Nuclear Research has, for the first time, defined the profile of gravitational waves generated in the first minute of the universe. The “thunder”, that is gravitational waves, produced since the cosmos suddenly accelerated its expansion creating the physical Universe we live in. This research has been published by Nature

Thanks to research results published on August 20 by the most important world scientific journal, Nature, (INFN researchers participated in this study) we know now that the “thunder” of the Big Bang can’t exceed some level of “noise”. For the first time physicists have explored the first minute of existence of cosmos, by looking for gravitational waves. That is of those ripples in space time (like waves on a pond surface), coming from large cataclysmic events. Gravitational waves can be produced by stellar explosions (Supernovae), collisions between black holes or neutron stars, as well as, by the Big Bang.
Until now gravitational waves, predicted by Einstein, have never been observed. Searching for them is done through technologically very developed apparatuses that have to detect, using laser beams travelling back and forth for one hundred kilometres, length variations of the order of one thousandth of the diameter of an atomic nucleus.
Italy hosts one of these detectors, the Virgo interferometer, at Cascina, near Pisa, result of a common effort by Italy (through INFN) and France, through the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique. Virgo is collaborating with the US project (called LIGO) working with three interferometers, one in the state of Washington, one in Lousiana and another one in Germany. Two years of observation (2005-2007) by LIGO have allowed this precision measurement. Italian scientists contributed to the analysis of the large amount of data collected.
“The scientists of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and the Virgo Collaboration have joined their efforts to make the best use of their instruments” says Francesco Fidecaro, a professor of physics at the University of Pisa and with the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare, Spokesperson of the Virgo Collaboration. “combining simultaneously data coming from the LIGO and Virgo interferometers we will be able to get from gravitational waves information no other instrument can give. This is very promising for the future.”
Data sharing between LIGO and Virgo will allow indeed to scientists to go back in time even more with greater sensitivity.

TO KNOW MORE

At the birth of the Universe different kind of echo were generated, coming from the residual heat from the Big Bang (the cosmic microwave radiation background) and coming from gravitational waves (ripples in the fabric of spacetime). Out of these, only gravitational waves bring us information from the time immediately following the Big Bang. The very early universe is transparent for gravitational waves but is not for any other kind of particle. This is why cosmic microwave background radiation allows to “observe” cosmos only, so to say, about 400 thousand years after the first explosion.
The echo of gravitational waves, called stochastic background, appears as a superposition of waves like those on the surface of a pond, but with different height and direction. This background noise intensity is directly related to the parameters that govern the behaviour of the Universe in the first minute after the Big Bang.
The study published by Nature, sets also limits for existing models of “cosmic strings”, strange objects that we think may have been created at the birth of the Universe and then pulled to reach a very large length during expansion. Strings might create loops that during their oscillation, decay and disappearance, would generate gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves, carrying their wealth of information about their violent origin and about the nature of gravity, can be studied only using large interferometers and gravitational wave antennas like LIGO and Virgo.
The existence of these waves was predicted by Einstein in 1916 as a consequence of his General Theory of Relativity.


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