NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION / NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY NATIONAL SCIENCE FOUNDATION / NASA / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Animation of how LIGO's interferometers will respond to a gravitational wave. A laser is fired towards a beam splitter, which sends two identical beams down a long mirrored tube. The tubes are designed so that the waves cancel each other out when they return to the detector behind the splitter, which therefore detects no light in normal conditions. When a gravitational wave passes the apparatus, the size of the tubes changes as it passes, hence the phases of the waves are affected, and they no longer cancel each other out. This leads to the detection of light, which counts as a signal of a passing wave.
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