A suitable array of gravitational antennas could delineate or limit the number of modes present in a given wave. The strategy depends on whether or not the source direction is known. In general there are eight unknowns (six polarizations and two direction cosines), but only six measurables (). If the direction can be established by either association of the waves with optical or other observations, or by time-of-flight measurements between separated detectors, then six suitably oriented detectors suffice to determine all six components. If the direction cannot be established, then the system is underdetermined, and no unique solution can be found. However, if one assumes that only transverse waves are present, then there are only three unknowns if the source direction is known, or five unknowns otherwise. Then the corresponding number (three or five) of detectors can determine the polarization. If distinct evidence were found of any mode other than the two transverse quadrupolar modes of GR, the result would be disastrous for GR. On the other hand, the absence of a breathing mode would not necessarily rule out scalar-tensor gravity, because the strength of that mode depends on the nature of the source.
Some of the details of implementing such polarization observations have been worked out for arrays of resonant cylindrical, disk-shaped, spherical, and truncated icosahedral detectors (TEGP 10.2 , for recent reviews see [169, 266]); initial work has been done to assess whether the ground-based or space-based laser interferometers (or combinations of the two types) could perform interesting polarization measurements [267, 47, 177, 117, 273]. Unfortunately for this purpose, the two LIGO observatories (in Washington and Louisiana states, respectively) have been constructed to have their respective arms as parallel as possible, apart from the curvature of the Earth; while this maximizes the joint sensitivity of the two detectors to gravitational waves, it minimizes their ability to detect two modes of polarization.
© Max Planck Society and the author(s)