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A coin-sized detector might observe gravitational waves before the giant Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), according to two Australian physicists.

Predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity but yet to be directly observed, gravitational waves are ripples in space-time generated by accelerating massive objects. The tiny detector has been made by Dr Maxim Goryachev and Professor Michael Tobar at The University of Western Australia.

Resonant-mass detectors have traditionally employed metal bars about a metre long and around a tonne in weight, which makes them sensitive to gravitational waves with frequencies up to about a few kilohertz. However, tiny vibrations that would be induced by gravitational waves are extremely difficult to detect above the thermal noise in the bar.

Dr Goryachev and Professor Tobar overcame this problem by targeting gravitational radiation in the 1-1000 MHz range. Operating at temperatures as low as 0.01 K above the absolute zero, these devices are able to operate at the quantum regime allowing for the lowest possible noise level.

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