Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Hanford, WA

Did you know there is an observatory located on the Hanford Site? Plutonium for the first atomic bomb was produced here. This is a new kind of observatory, in an ever-growing network of such observatories. It uses lasers to detect gravitational waves and did so together with the LIGO site in Livingston, LA on September 14, 2015. LIGO detected gravitational waves produced from two large merging black holes 1.3 billion years ago on that date for the first time ever in history.

This proves that gravitational waves – the elusive ripples in spacetime – exist as predicted by Albert Einstein 100 years ago. The instruments in Hanford and Livingston are two of the world’s most sensitive measuring instruments. Gravitational waves detections is a whole new branch of how we look at our universe and beyond. This instruments will give us a better understanding of black holes, neutron stars, and supernovas.

I don’t want to get too much into the science fact of gravitational waves, as I don’t even come close to fully understand it. However, if you are interested you should visit one of the LIGO sites in the United States.

During my B-Reactor Tour, I found a flyer for LIGO. The website showed that there are free public tours every second Saturday of each month. There is also the possibility to just drop in and visit the visitor center during the week. That was what I did as I wouldn’t be long enough in the area.

I headed out to the Hanford Site and followed the instructions of my GPS. LIGO is marked on Google Maps but there are no signs on the street pointing towards the observatory. Only on Hanford Route 10, you will see a sign, but by then you can already see the building.

Follow the signs for visitor parking and head over to the visitor center. They have lots of information displayed how LIGO works and what it does. In the auditorium is a TV setup which will loop two videos explaining more about the observatory and whats going on here.

I asked a staff member if I could walk over to the main building and take some pictures. She was so nice and took me on a little private tour instead. She explained the different buildings and objects of the LIGO site. There are models of the detector arms set up right outside the main building. This gives you an idea how it looks inside the 4 km (2.5 miles) long concrete tunnels extending out of the main building in an L-Shape.

We went out to an overpass of one of the detector arms. If you stand up here and look down the tunnel, you think you see the end. No this is only the mid-way station. The end of the arm is even further away than this building. We were able to see the end of the other tunnel while standing on the overpass. It’s a small tine “dot” at the far end of the detector arm. That’s more or less all you seem from here.

One of the highlights was definitely visiting the control room. This is where all the magic happens and I got to talk to one of the operators here at LIGO. He thoroughly explained all the monitors and the setup of LIGO here in Hanford.

Control Room

Some of the monitors of the control room are actually mirrored to a screen in the visitor center. It’s located to the left of the front desk.

Live View of some of the monitors in the control room.

As I was talking to the people here, it was interesting that many people don’t even know about that place here. Heck, I didn’t know about it either and just found it because of the flyer they put out at visitor station of the Manhattan Project. LIGO at Hanford and Livingston got constructed in 1994/95. This means that the LIGO at Hanford has been around for a while.

If you get a chance, visit this place and see for yourself. It’s always good to call ahead to see whats going on, especially if you are just a drop-in visitor. The visitor center might be open but you could get denied any further access.

LIGO with Rattle Snake Mountain in the Background


  • Website

    (click here)

  • Time of Operation

    Drop-In Visitors:

    Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.
    Wednesday: 9 a.m. – 3 p.m.

    Monthly Public Tours:

    Two walking tours at 1:30 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. every second Saturday of the month. Length of the tour approx. 75 minutes.
    LIGO Staff Member Public Talk: 3 p.m.

  • Admission

    Free of Charge

  • Location