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Union Cabinet clears LIGO-India gravitational wave observatory

NEW DELHI(PTI): Days after an international team of scientists, including several from India, formally announced that it had detected gravitational waves from deep space, the Union Cabinet, chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, said it had, “in principle,” approved a proposal to have a gravitational wave detector in India.

In this undated photo released by Caltech/MIT/LIGO Laboratory on February 8, 2016 shows Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory Hanford laboratory detector site near Hanford, Washington. India has approved a proposal to establish a gravitational wave observatory in India in collaboration with LIGO.
In this undated photo released by Caltech/MIT/LIGO Laboratory on February 8, 2016 shows Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory Hanford laboratory detector site near Hanford, Washington. India has approved a proposal to establish a gravitational wave observatory in India in collaboration with LIGO.

Those connected with the project said it was an important development and marked the government formally acknowledging it but a final decision regarding the money, and how it would be spent, was still some time away. Current estimates suggest the project would cost at least Rs. 1,200 crore. As The Hindu reported on Monday, the project is still at least eight years away. The gravitational waves were detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) — a system of detectors in Washington and Louisiana.

‘Now we know the govt. is serious’

Since 2011, a consortium of Indian research establishments has been lobbying to have a gravitational wave detector — most of whose hardware is already ready in the United States — located in India.

Known as the LIGO-India project, it is piloted by Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and Department of Science and Technology (DST).

“We have been waiting for this for a long time…now we know the government is serious,” Bala Iyer, Council Chair, of the LIGO-India consortium, told The Hindu.

The LIGO-India project will be jointly coordinated and executed by three Indian research institutions: the Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics (IUCAA), Pune and Department of Atomic Energy organisations: Institute for Plasma Research (IPR), Gandhinagar and the Raja Ramanna Centre for Advanced Technology (RRCAT), Indore.

The RRCAT, which has expertise in lasers and IPR, with expertise in the high vacuum and cryogenic systems, will be the institutions who will be responsible for execution of the project while IUCAA, the key science stakeholder of LIGO-India, will be responsible for the science teams, human resources development, data acquisition and scientific data computation, according to a press statement by the consortium.

“LIGO-India will also bring considerable opportunities in cutting edge technology for the Indian industry which will be engaged in the construction of an eight-kilometre-long beam-tube at ultra-high vacuum on a levelled terrain,” the statement added.