In a landmark discovery scientists have detected gravitational waves, hypothesized by Albert Einstein over 100 years ago. Announced on Thursday, this opens a new window for studying the cosmos. "Ladies and gentlemen, we have detected gravitational waves. We did it," said California Institute of Technology physicist David Reitze, triggering applause at a packed news conference in Washington.
Indian scientists, more than 60 in all, also played a major role in the scientific breakthrough.
Sanjeev Dhurandhar, professor emeritus at the Inter-University Centre of Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA) in Pune, was one of the 1,000 key scientists involved in detecting the gravitational waves. As early as 1980’s when the world was keen on electromagnetic waves, he was adamant about the existence of this scientific marvel.
The scientific community was not very receptive when the Pune born scientist suggested the existence of these weak waves which can help detect black holes. Despite the spectism, in the year 1989, he was brought into IUCAA, Pune by Jayant Narlikar (founder-director, IUCAA) to help develop techniques for the detection of the signals.
The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) – the discovery portal for the gravitational waves — finished construction in 1999 in United States, and Dharundhar led various groups to research this theory based on the data provided by these observatories. Today many of his students have contributed to the phenomenal discovery in various parts of the world.
The Indian Initiative in Gravitational-Wave Observatories (IndIGO) was set up in 2009 with over 60 scientists from various institutions of the country like – CMI Chennai, ICTS –TIFR Bengaluru, IISER Kolkata, IISER – Trivandrum, IIT Gandhingar , IPR Gandhinagar, IUCAA Pune, RRCAT Indore and TIFR Mumbai. Some of the key tasks carried out by these groups were to decipher the LIGO response to signals, the dynamics of the black hole, and to analyse the energy radiated at the time of the collision of the black holes. Bala Iyer – a scientist at the Raman Research Institute, Bengaluru, led a group in collaboration with French scientists, to calculate the gravitational waves emitted by the black holes and neutron stars.
LIGO facility in India
As early as 2014, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had announced India’s intention to host a key facility in an effort to detect gravitational waves. In August 2012, National Science Foundation’s (NSF) oversight body – National Science Board —authorized officials to set up facilities in India for the hunt for the gravitational waves.
The LIGO observatories currently reside in two American states, Louisiana and Washington, and a LIGO-India is being envisioned as a joint project between Indian research institutes, the LIGO US lab and its international partners. The centre has offered a funding of 1,200 crore and Indian scientists will be responsible for finding a suitable site to host the detector.
PM Narendra Modi’s reaction
Prime Minister Modi also expressed his joy on the social media platform, Twitter, for India’s contribution in this discovery.
Immensely proud that Indian scientists played an important role in this challenging quest.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) February 11, 2016