Japan’s pioneering detector set to join hunt for gravitational waves

Japan’s pioneering detector set to join hunt for gravitational waves

Inside a house-sized scaffolding wrapped in thick plastic sheets, Takayuki Tomaru is in full clean-room attire. The physicist is performing one of the most delicate and crucial tasks in the construction of a gravitational-wave observatory: installing one of the machine’s four mirrors, each a 23-kilogram cylinder of solid sapphire known as a test mass.

The ¥16.4-billion (US$148-million) observatory — Japan’s Kamioka Gravitational Wave Detector (KAGRA) — will work on the same principle as the two detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in the United States and the Virgo solo machine in Italy. In the past few years, these machines have begun to detect gravitational waves — long-sought ripples in the fabric of space-time created by cataclysmic cosmic events such as the merging of two black holes or the collision of two neutron stars.

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