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Palomar Observatory Will Assist In Worldwide Search For Gravitational Waves

Astronomers around the world are beginning to use new tools, some of them right here in San Diego County, to track down the ripples in space-time predicted by Albert Einstein's theory of relativity.

Albert Einstein first forwarded his theory of relativity more than 100 years ago. Yet astronomers still haven't been able to directly observe the warping of space-time that he predicted. With budding global efforts and new tools, including some right here in San Diego, that could change.

Photo credit: Henze/NASA

Gravitational waves are caused by objects tens of thousands of times more denser than our own sun.

In an article published yesterday in the Journal of Science, Carnegie Institute for Science researcher Mansi Kasliwal describes a "surge of excitement" pulsing through her field. Astronomers from countries like India, Japan and the United States are coming together to embark on a hunt for gravitational waves.

These waves are produced by incredibly dense objects in space, like pairs of black holes, or hugely explosive events, like merging neutron stars. They send off ripples in the fabric of space and time, like stones being thrown into a pond.

Astronomers hope to detect these waves using advanced interferometers currently being built in Louisiana, Italy and other parts of the world. And once they pick up on those tiny fluctuations in space-time as they reach Earth, they'll want to know where they originated.

Kasliwal says that's where the Palomar Observatory, located in San Diego County, comes in.

"There has been a lot of work at Palomar to prepare for the search for explosions associated with these gravitational waves," she says.

However, it could take a while before astronomers finally spot this hard evidence that Einstein was right. Some of the tools needed to detect gravitational waves won't be up and running until 2017.

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