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Louisiana facility measures gravitational waves for the first time

LIVINGSTON PARISH, LA (WVUE) -- -

Scientists around the world say a discovery made in Louisiana will change the way we study the universe.

In the middle of the piney woods of Livingston parish, west of Hammond, sits a half billion dollar investment into science. It's called LIGO, which stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory. It's a giant laser, that traverses two, 2 1/2 mile long tubes. It's considered the most sensitive listening device ever created and 3 months ago it heard something which scientists say proved Albert Einstein's 100-year-old theory of relativity.

"We are here today with a whole new way to observe the universe," said LIGO's Kip Thorne, at a news conference at the Washington press club.

On Sept. 14, the laser wave generated in Livingston parish, was disrupted by a cataclysmic event over a billion light years away.

"Within three minutes, scientists in Germany were alerted, and they called the control room to see what was going on," said Richard Oram, the operations manager for the Livingston LIGO facility.

What they believe they heard, was the collision and joining together of two black holes. At a news conference in Washington, D.C.  today, they let the world hear it too.

It sounded like a brief "chirp." The wave disruption was verified by a second LIGO laser, 3000 miles away in Hanford, Washington.

"You can only believe they are real if you measure them at the same time," said Gabriela Gonzalez, an LSU researcher who works at the Livingston parish facility.

According to LIGO's Director, David Reitze, this is only the beginning.

"What's really exciting is what comes next," Reitze said. "400 years ago, Galileo turned a telescope to the sky and opened astronomy. We are doing something equally important today, opening a window on gravitational wave discovery."

Scientists will soon increase the power of the lasers to pick up even more gravitational  waves, opening up a new world of astronomical discovery. The Livingston parish facility and the 50 people who work there will play a key role in helping us better understand the universe.

"I think it's similar to astronomy, to the dawn of radio astronomy where the realization that there are useful signals you can get from objects in the sky emitting radio waves," Oram said.

The LIGO facility in Livingston parish has been open since 1997. It is available for tours and includes a visitor center open every third  Saturday of the month from 10 to 4.

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