Cabinet Grants Approval for Indian Gravitational Wave Observatory

Locations of existing gravitational-wave detectors, and how far out a LIGO in India would be. Source: LIGO

Locations of existing gravitational-wave detectors, and how far out a LIGO in India would be. Source: LIGO

New DelhiOn the back of a landmark announcement by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration in the US of the discovery of gravitational waves, the Union Cabinet announced on February 17 that it had granted ‘in-principle’ approval for India to build a third detector to join an existing network of four. An Indian detector has been sought since at least 2011, at an estimated cost of Rs.1,200-1,500 crore.

The extant Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Detectors are funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) in the US. India joined the collaboration in 2009. Because of the organisational structure, the Indian government must bear any costs in excess of that already allocated by the NSF, which amounts to Rs.1,260 crore. For the construction of the detector itself, the Indian collaboration – dubbed IndIGO – has earmarked sites in Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, while its constituent scientists have pointed out that it take eight years to build. It’s unclear if this timeline could be hastened with the approval.

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“The LIGO-India project will establish a state-of-the-art gravitational wave observatory in India in collaboration with the LIGO laboratory in the US run by Caltech and MIT. This project will bring unprecedented opportunities for scientists and engineers to dig deeper into the realm of gravitational waves and take global leadership in this new astronomical frontier,” the press release stated.

An in-principle approval is not new – former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh provided the same kind of approval at the start of the 2014 Indian Science Congress, but his government failed to fund the project. On the other hand, The Economic Times reported earlier this week that the Narendra Modi government is likely to allocate in the ballpark of Rs.1,000 crore, and an official announcement of which scientists are hoping will be made during the presentation of the Union Budget on February 29. The Department of Atomic Energy and the Department of Science and Technology will maintain oversight.

IndIGO consists of ten academic and research institutions from around the country, including the Indian Institutes of Technology in Chennai and Kanpur. It is chaired by Bala Iyer, a physicist renowned for his work with the theory of gravity, affiliated with the Raman Research Institute, Bengaluru.