Virgo is one of three observatories in the world capable of detecting gravitational waves.
The gravitational wave detector, how it works
Gravitational waves are very faint cosmic signals that allow us to observe extraordinary phenomena in the deep Universe at unimaginable distances from Earth, such as the merging of black holes or stars.
The detector consists of two three-kilometre long arms stretching across the countryside, between Pisa and Cascina, equipped with extremely sophisticated technology, which also allows continuous monitoring of signals of a different nature, e.g. seismic, atmospheric, related to natural or man-made ecosystems.
Virgo, the fruit of a century of research and technological development
After all, revealing gravitational waves is no easy task. It took a century of research and technological developments to arrive at the 2015 discovery of the waves, first theorised at the beginning of the last century by Albert Einstein. Virgo was built in the late 1990s and is housed within EGO, the European Gravitational Observatory, an international research institution funded by Italy, France and the Netherlands and a unique research infrastructure of excellence in Europe.
It takes its name after the Virgo cluster that consists of about 1500 galaxies and is about 50 million light years away from Earth. Gravitational waves are completely different from light, the main “medium” used so far to study the Universe. Revealing gravitational waves is not an easy task. It took more than half a century of technological and experimental developments, conducted by scientists around the world, to intercept the first gravitational waves with interferometers in 2015.