4 Gravitational Wave Detectors and Their Sensitivity

Detectors of gravitational waves generally divide into two classes: beam detectors and resonant mass detectors. In beam detectors, gravitational waves interact with a beam of electromagnetic radiation, which is monitored in some way to register the passage of the wave. In resonant mass detectors, the gravitational wave transfers energy to a massive body, from which the resultant oscillations are observed.

Both classes include a variety of systems. The principal beam detectors are the large ground-based laser interferometers currently operating in several locations around the globe, such as the LIGO system in the USA. The ESA–NASA LISA mission aims to put a laser interferometer into space to detect milliHertz gravitational waves. But beam detectors do not need to involve interferometry: the radio beams transponded to interplanetary spacecraft can carry the signature of a passing gravitational wave, and this method has been used to search for low-frequency gravitational waves. And radio astronomers have for many years monitored the radio beams of distant pulsars for evidence of gravitational waves; new radio instrumentation is turning this into a powerful and promising method of looking for stochastic backgrounds and individual sources. And at ultra-low frequencies, gravitational waves in the early universe may have left their imprint on the polarization of the cosmic microwave background.

Resonant mass detectors were the first kind of detector built in the laboratory to detect gravitational waves: Joseph Weber [387] built two cylindrical aluminum bar detectors and attempted to find correlated disturbances that might have been caused by a passing impulsive gravitational wave. His claimed detections led to the construction of many other bar detectors of comparable or better sensitivity, which never verified his claims. Some of those detectors were not developed further, but others had their sensitivities improved by making them cryogenic, and today there are two ultra-cryogenic detectors in operation (see Section 4.1).

In the following, we will examine the principal detection methods that hold promise today and in the near future.

 4.1 Principles of the operation of resonant mass detectors
 4.2 Principles of the operation of beam detectors
  4.2.1 The response of a ground-based interferometer
 4.3 Practical issues of ground-based interferometers
  4.3.1 Interferometers around the globe
  4.3.2 Very-high–frequency detectors
 4.4 Detection from space
  4.4.1 Ranging to spacecraft
  4.4.2 Pulsar timing
  4.4.3 Space interferometry
 4.5 Characterizing the sensitivity of a gravitational wave antenna
  4.5.1 Noise power spectral density in interferometers
  4.5.2 Sensitivity of interferometers in units of energy flux
 4.6 Source amplitudes vs sensitivity
 4.7 Network detection
  4.7.1 Coherent vs coincidence analysis
  4.7.2 Null stream veto
  4.7.3 Detection of stochastic signals by cross-correlation
 4.8 False alarms, detection threshold and coincident observation

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