Gravitational waves: Italy in the forefront of a new understanding of the Universe
The announcement of the first direct detection of a gravitational wave opens a new era in physics and new perspectives in the investigation of the Universe. In this new page in the history of international research, Italy plays a major role, being the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF) both involved in a number of projects.
Huge expectations in space research and investigation of the so far unknown Universe were raised by the direct observation of the first gravitational wave, announced by the international scientific collaborations LIGO and VIRGO, the latter managed by the European Gravitational Observatory (EGO) consortium founded by the Italian National Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN) and the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS).
This historic achievement inaugurates a new research frontier, making it possible to observe the Universe with new techniques, in a context where Italian scientists play a major role, through a number of international collaborations carried out by the Italian Space Agency (ASI) and the National Institute of Astrophysics (INAF). “The discovery made by LIGO/VIRGO is a landmark which opens up new horizons to astrophysics. Our institution is ready to observe any possible sources of gravitational waves in the Universe”, said Nicolò D’Amico, President of INAF.
One of the research objectives, for example, will be to determine and characterize the sources of gravitational waves, by investigating all bands of the electromagnetic spectrum, from radio waves to gamma rays, especially thanks to the space-based telescopes, such as SWIFT – the NASA space observatory developed in cooperation with Italy and the United Kingdom – FERMI – the NASA mission with relevant contribution by Italy, Japan, France and Sweden – and the Italian satellite AGILE (Astrorivelatore Gamma ad Immagini ultra Leggero) which has been orbiting since 2007. Not to mention the contribution of the LISA Pathfinder mission conducted by the European Space Agency (ESA), started in 2015 with the purpose of testing, in a space environment, low-frequency gravitational wave detection, with an important Italian contribution.
“After more than fifty years of research”, said Roberto Battiston, President of the Italian Space Agency, “the detection of gravitational waves will allow us to open a new chapter in astrophysics, based on a new observational technique never used before. In this context, space experiments will play a key role by helping locate the gravitational sources by means of light signals (X-rays and gamma rays) as well as developing interferometers such as those made on the ground, but millions of times larger and more sensitive, to be placed in space. Among these instruments, the Lisa Pathfinder experiment recently put in orbit by the latest Vega launch is a precursor.”
An important contribution to the understanding of gravitational waves will also come from the new generation of laser interferometers, which are ten times more sensitive than their predecessors. Among them is Advanced VIRGO: the new phase of the VIRGO interferometer installed at Cascina, near Pisa, which will start by the end of 2016, and will provide observations even more powerful than the gravitational waves generated in the Universe.