Traveling: LIGO in Livingston Parish, Louisiana

We originally planned to post this before the third Saturday, or Science Saturday, of August.  And then the rains came.  They didn’t stop.  LIGO is located in Livingston Parish, one of the parishes that received the worst of it. LIGO made out ok.  They will be having their Science Saturday this week on the 17th. 

Mr. and Mrs. Nola Nerd Couple craves adventure and excitement. It’s the reason why we are not Jedi. We love to go explore new nerdy things. And what could be nerdier than touring a Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO for short.

LIGO is a research facility used to detect and understand gravitational waves. Its a facility that “use laser interferometry to measure the minute ripples in space-time caused by passing gravitational waves from cataclysmic cosmic sources such as the mergers of pairs of neutron stars or black holes, or by supernovae. LIGO consists of two widely separated interferometers within the United States—one in Hanford, Washington and the other in Livingston, Louisiana—operated in unison to detect gravitational waves.”  My physics knowledge is too weak to paraphrase that long quote.

That’s why we went to LIGO for Science Saturday.

On the third Saturday of every month, LIGO Livingston hosts a Science Saturday so we took the opportunity in July to attend one. The events are free and include a tour of the facility including the control room. There is also a hands-on area to demonstrate how physics works in the real world. Each month there is a different theme. The week we went was “Swing into Science” that had some homemade (read: you could recreate at home) pendulums with explanations.  We did one that had a pendulum that swung back and forth.  I had to wear a set of glasses that had one lens dark and the other clear. A volunteer came, without us asking, and explained how to conduct the experiment.  He  moved the pendulum and while I was wearing the glasses, I could see the pendulum move in a 360-degree circle.  Mrs. Nola nerd Couple confirmed that it was not moving in a circle just back and forth.  I switched the dark and clear over my eyes: the pendulum rotated the opposite direction.  Moral of the lesson: don’t drive with only one lens in your sunglasses.

The tour of the facility was interesting, but I would lie if I said that I understood it all.  They did talk about megaparsecs which  as everyone, but Han Solo, knows is a measure of length not time.  We also learned that to discover the sounds of gravitational waves, you had to subtract other sounds. They had different monitors that measured sounds. Of course, between 10 pm to 6 am, we as a species are a lot quieter than from 6am to 10 pm. By eliminating different waves from different sources could start focusing on gravitational waves. Then on September 14, 2015, they detected gravitational waves.


The best part is the hands-on educational exhibits.  Besides the science project ones, they have more sophisticated permanent exhibits.  All teach you about physics.  We learned a lot while we played.  Families were enjoying their day and the place was busy the entire time we were there.

So, if you are looking for something fun and free to do with your kids or just because you are nerds like us, we can’t recommend LIGO high enough.

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