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With gravitational waves found, Japanese Nobel winner looks forward to new detector

Takaaki Kajita, head of the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research at the University of Tokyo, speaks at a news conference at the institute, in Kashiwa, Chiba Prefecture, on Feb. 12, 2016. (Mainichi)

KASHIWA, Chiba -- Following the news that gravitational waves have been observed for the first time, Takaaki Kajita, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics and head of the Institute for Cosmic Ray Research at the University of Tokyo, told a Feb. 12 news conference that he is looking forward to what a new Japanese gravitational wave telescope will be able to accomplish.

The press conference was hurriedly put together after the news of the waves' detection broke. Reporters asked Kajita if he was frustrated about being beaten to it and about whether his chances of winning a Nobel Prize for being the first to detect gravitational waves were gone.

However, Kajita smiled and said, "I'm very happy that we've learned there is a new field of astronomy we can study using gravitational waves."

A team that includes Kajita's institute is building KAGRA, a large-scale cryogenic gravitational wave telescope, in Hida, Gifu Prefecture. The news of the gravitational wave detection comes just before a planned March 15 test run of the new telescope.

KAGRA is being built deep underground, meaning little trouble from interference and promising high sensitivity in its readings. When asked if gravitational waves would have been detectable if KAGRA had been running, Kajita showed some signs he regretted being beaten to the punch, saying, "Probably. (If we can detect them) we can also receive yet more eye-opening signals. We have done our best as a Japanese research group."

KAGRA is adjacent to "Super-Kamiokande," a neutrino detection facility, and Kajita says that it may be possible to simultaneously observe gravitational waves and neutrinos at the two facilities.

Shinji Miyoki, associate professor at the University of Tokyo, said, "It's too bad that we were beaten. However, without anyone in the world having observed gravitational waves, it was hard to do research without knowing whether they really existed. (More than feeling regretful), I am relieved that now they have been observed for the first time and we know our research direction is correct."

Takayuki Tomaru, visiting associate professor and a member of the same institute, has been moving forward with preparations for the KAGRA test run. He said hopefully, "We will have more chances from now to make discoveries about space."

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