LIGO Document G2400009-v3

How LIGO and Virgo Changed the Way We Think in Physics

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This is a plenary presentation at the 2024 April APS Meeting in the session "Scientific Impact of Major Facilities". The title was selected by the session organizers.

Despite entirely legitimate concerns in the 1980s and 1990s on the viability of constructing gravitational-wave detectors sensitive enough to detect gravitational waves as well as uncertainties in the physics of gravitational-wave sources and, particularly, their associated event rates, LIGO and Virgo succeeded in opening a new window into the Universe in 2015 with the detection of a binary black hole merger. Since then, detections of gravitational waves have yielded an abundance of knowledge about the some of the highest energy events that the cosmos produces and revealed new insights into relativistic astrophysical phenomena.

In this talk, I'll briefly present some of the history of LIGO and Virgo as well as the key advances in precision measurement/interferometry that underpin gravitational-wave detections. Much of the presentation will emphasize what gravitational-wave detections of mergers of stellar mass black holes and neutron stars have taught us about since the first detection in 2015. Finally, I'll briefly preview the evolution of ground-based astronomy for the coming decades.

This work is supported by the US National Science Foundation awards PHY-1764464 and PHY-2309200.

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