While watching a documentary on gravity, we discovered that LIGO Livingston was in our backyard (well, an hour away, but practically in our backyard)! I have no idea how we overlooked this exciting fact, but we headed out that very week to check it out! We’ve since been back several times, including for Ruby’s 4th Birthday Party!
LIGO stands for “laser interferometer gravitational-wave observatory” and is funded by the US National Science Foundation and run by MIT and Caltech. Put somewhat simply, LIGO is home to a bunch of incredible cutting edge technology that’s working to detect gravitational waves from violent phenomena around our universe.
This project was inspired by Einstein’s prediction of gravitational waves (ripples in time-space resulting from things like black holes colliding). Funding was secured in 1979, but site construction didn’t begin until the mid-90s. In 2008, construction began on Advanced LIGO. LIGO began its first observing run in September 2015 and by September 14th, it had observed its first gravitational wave. It has since detected one other confirmed gravitational wave and others will likely be confirmed through intense data review.
The interferometers are pretty mind-boggling as a layperson, visiting the observatories. They are comprised of two 4-kilometer long vacuum chambers, built in an L-shape. These “legs” are long enough that Earth’s curved surface had a role in the design. An infrared laser is at the heart of the measurements and is shot through a series of mirrors down each one of these legs. LIGO can measure motion that’s about 1/10,000th of an atomic nucleus!
LIGO consists of four locations, two interferometers (one here in Livingston and one in Washington state) and two research centers (at MIT and Caltech). You can read a much more sophisticated and in depth version of LIGO’s history on their website here.
About LIGO’s Livingston Observatory
LIGO Livingston Science Saturdays
Because of the delicate nature of LIGO’s measurements, their facility only has limited times where it’s open to the public.
The best way to experience the Livingston Observatory is on “Science Saturdays”. These take place on the third Saturday of the month from 1:00 – 5:00 pm. (Note: Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Science Saturdays have been cancelled. Make sure to check their website for when these events will resume!)
On Science Saturday, visitors can explore the Science Education Center, lobby activities, and even take a tour of the control room. Each event has its own unique theme, so you can visit multiple times and have new experiences every month!
LIGO Livingston Science Education Center
LIGO’s Science Education Center is an incredible opportunity to get hands-on with all kinds of physical science. It’s truly a place for everyone.
Activities are geared for all ages and levels of scientific interest, with more than 50 interactive exhibits. We had so much fun exploring suspension, strobe lights, bright black, resonance, shadows, infrared rays, and more.
Our Favorite Parts of the LIGO Livingston Observatory
My favorite part was definitely the tour of the control room. Getting an inside look at such an incredible place and having the opportunity to ask questions to one of the working scientists was an unforgettable experience.
The girls loved the lobby activities and interacting with STEM students from close-by universities, but especially loved the soap bubble painting in the mini science museum area!
I loved that the entire family learned, explored, and had fun together. There were exhibits and information presented at levels for all of us. We can’t wait to go back!
Planning Your Visit to LIGO Livingston
LIGO Livingston Observatory is located at 19100 LIGO Lane, Livingston, LA 70754. It’s an easy trip off of I-12, despite its somewhat rural location, and very well marked.
Hours, Parking, & Admission Cost
As noted above, LIGO is not open to the public regularly. If you plan to visit, make sure to check for Science Saturday dates on their website or contact them directly about scheduling a field trip or public tour.
After arriving through the main gate, follow the road to the right and look for parking signs. There is ample parking directly outside of the Science Education Center!
Visiting LIGO Livingston is FREE. That’s right, it’s totally free to experience all of the awe and wonder of LIGO!
Visiting LIGO Livingston with Toddlers and Young Children
My girls really enjoyed all of the hands-on science. It’s definitely an engaging place for all ages, including toddlers! Be prepared to get involved though! Some of the exhibits will require direction and assistance from adults.
The tour is definitely geared towards an older audience. Your family should make a judgment call about your kids’ attention spans and behavior. My girls hung in there for the first half of the tour, but by the end, they were ready to go play and didn’t care that mom was nerding out!