UK-led gravitational wave telescope gets first light

The hunt for gravitational waves continues, now boosted by a new ground-based telescope led by a British university.

The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) was built and will be operated by a team led by the University of Warwick.
Published: July 5, 2017 at 12:00 pm

A UK-led telescope that can detect gravitational waves has been officially begun observations on the island of La Palma. The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) was built and will be operated by a team led by the University of Warwick.

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It will search for the “optical signatures” of gravitational waves from the ground, following alerts from gravitational wave detectors like the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, which was responsible for the first ever detected of gravitational waves in September 2015.

Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time caused by violent events such as the merging of two black holes, and were first presented as a theory by Albert Einstein in 1915.

The theory explains how massive bodies produce fluctuations in the fabric of space-time.

These fluctuations are called gravitational waves.

The direct detection of gravitational waves marks an epoch in astrophysics and our understanding of the Universe.

GOTO will locate optical signatures associated with gravitational waves so astronomers can point telescopes at them to observe them before they disappear.

The inauguration of GOTO at the Roque de los Muchachos ObservatoryCredit: Antonio González / IAC
The inauguration of GOTO at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory Credit: Antonio González / IAC

The project is partly funded through an alliance with the University of Warwick and Monash University.

The telescope is situated at the University of Warwick’s astronomical observing facility at the Roque de los Muchachos Observatory on La Palma in the Canary Islands.

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It was launched during a ceremony on 3 July 2017.

Authors

Iain Todd, BBC Sky at Night Magazine
Iain ToddScience journalist

Iain Todd is BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Staff Writer. He fell in love with the night sky when he caught his first glimpse of Orion, aged 10.

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