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Published April 1980 | Published
Journal Article Open

Gravitational-wave research: Current status and future prospects

Thorne, Kip S.


There is a reasonably good change that in the 1980s cosmic gravitational waves will be discovered and will become a powerful tool for astronomy. This prospect has stimulated a three-pronged research effort. First, relativity theorists are developing new mathematical tools for the analysis of gravitational radiation—including (i) methods of analyzing the generation of gravity waves by sources with strong selfgravity and large internal velocities (e.g., collisions of black holes), (ii) methods of computing radiation reaction in sources, and (iii) methods of analyzing how gravitational waves propagate through our lumpy curved-space Universe. Second, astrophysicists are attempting to identify the most promissing sources of gravitational waves, and are using the relativity theorists' mathematical tools to estimate the characteristics of the waves they emit. Third, with the estimated wave characteristics in mind, experimenters are designing and constructing a second generation of gravitational-wave detectors—detectors of three types: Doppler tracking of interplanetary spacecraft, Earth-based laser interferometers, and Earth-based Weber-type resonant bars. This article reviews, in brief, all three prongs of the research effort and gives references to more detailed articles about specialized aspects of gravitational-wave physics.

Additional Information

©1980 American Physical Society. Supported in part by the National Science Foundation Grant No. AST76-80801. For helpful criticisms I thank R.W.P. Drever, C.M. Caves, and R.V. Wagoner.

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