Response of interferometric gravitational wave detectors

Lee Samuel Finn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The derivation of the response function of an interferometric gravitational wave detector is a paradigmatic calculation in the field of gravitational wave detection. Surprisingly, the standard derivation of the response wave detectors makes several unjustifiable assumptions, both conceptual and quantitative, regarding the coordinate trajectory and coordinate velocity of the null geodesic the light travels along. These errors, which appear to have remained unrecognized for at least 35 years, render the standard derivation inadequate and misleading as an archetype calculation. Here we identify the flaws in the existing derivation and provide, in full detail, a correct derivation of the response of a single-bounce Michelson interferometer to gravitational waves, following a procedure that will always yield correct results; compare it to the standard, but incorrect, derivation; show where the earlier mistakes were made; and identify the general conditions under which the standard derivation will yield correct results. By a fortuitous set of circumstances, not generally so, the final result is the same in the case of Minkowski background spacetime, synchronous coordinates, transverse-traceless gauge metric perturbations, and arm mirrors at coordinate rest.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number022002
JournalPhysical Review D - Particles, Fields, Gravitation and Cosmology
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jan 5 2009

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Nuclear and High Energy Physics
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


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