Gravitational waves are a phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein, who concluded that massive bodies moving at high speeds distort space-time, creating a ripple effect much like dropping a pebble into a pond.

As technology has advanced, scientists have developed advanced detectors to detect these gravitational waves and hear distant celestial movements. While current detectors are large and expensive, researchers are now devising ways to build giant, cost-effective gravitational wave detectors with the potential to monitor black holes.

What are Gravitational Waves?

Gravitational waves are energy ripples travelling through the fabric of space-time, created by collisions between neutron stars or black holes. Scientists have been devising ways to detect these waves for decades, although results have been limited due to their small amplitude and the difficulty in detecting them. More recently, however, gravitational waves have been detected several times by multiple observatories, including the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).

The Detectors

The LIGO observatories are large interferometers built by Caltech and MIT, capable of detecting a wide range of gravitational wave frequencies. These detectors currently use lasers to detect these waves, with the data from the detectors being compared against that from another detector to verify the wave’s existence. The detectors have been designed to detect a range of gravitational wave frequencies, from low to high.

Giant Detectors for Black Holes

While the current detectors are capable of detecting neutron stars and their collisions, they are not powerful enough to detect the gravitational waves produced by black holes. To do this, researchers believe that they will need to construct far larger detectors, of up to 10 times the size of the current detectors, making them large enough to detect the lower-frequency gravitational waves that black holes emit.

Advantages of Giant Detectors

As well as being able to detect black holes, larger detectors also hold many other advantages. They are more sensitive than current detectors, which means they can detect a greater range of frequencies, as well as reducing the number of false positives generated by the detectors. The larger detectors also have the potential to detect events further away, with the potential to make observations from other galaxies, if the detectors are powerful enough.

List of Challenges

Although large gravitational wave detectors bring many advantages, there are many challenges that must be overcome before construction of such detectors can begin. These challenges include:

  1. Cost – Building larger detectors that can detect black holes would require a large amount of money, as well as costly maintenance.

  2. Technical challenges – Making the detectors powerful enough to actually detect black holes would require complex engineering design and implementation.

  3. Power needs – Detectors of such size would require a very large power source to keep them running, which makes them difficult to deploy in many locations.

  4. Environmental factors – Detectors would need to be installed in remote locations away from sources of interference, such as human and animal inhabitation, and large amounts of background noise.

Potential Solutions

Researchers have already started devising ways to tackle the various challenges posed by large detectors. Cost is arguably the biggest issue, but they believe they can overcome it by using advances in engineering, such as smaller yet more powerful lasers, as well as by granting companies exemptions from building and development regulations and local laws.

The technical challenges be solved using the development of better and more efficient engineering techniques, as well as by using modern materials and computer models to ensure the detectors are robust, reliable and accurate. To overcome the power needs of the detectors, solar and wind power, as well as batteries, have all been suggested as potential sources for these giant detectors.

To ensure that the environment in which the detector is located is ideal, scientists suggest using remote locations, isolated from sources of interference, as well as using a variety of communication methods to ensure reliable and continuous communication with the detector.

Giant gravitational wave detectors could hear black holes, if the cost and technical challenges posed by such detectors are addressed. Recent advances in engineering and materials, as well as the growing use of renewable energy sources, could help researchers find ways to make such detectors a reality, giving us, for the first time, a way to observe and study the birth and death of some of the universe’s most mysterious objects.