A hundred years ago, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves. These waves were detected for the first time on September 14, 2015.
The scientists who led the effort have won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences has awarded this year’s Nobel Prize to three US physicists for ‘decisive contributions to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detector and the observation of gravitational waves’.
One half of the nine million Swedish Krona, or £825,000, prize money has been given to Dr Rainer Weiss, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the other half has been split between Dr. Barry C. Barish and Dr. Kip S. Thorne from the California Institute of Technology.
Gravitational waves travel at the speed of light and are created when a mass accelerates like the rotation of two black holes whose collision generated waves detected by the Nobel laureates and their team. Though Einstein predicted the existence of these waves, he was convinced that it would not be possible to detect them, said the press statement released on the occasion by the Nobel team. The discovery was made possible by efforts started as early as the 1970s. By the mid 1970s, Dr Weiss had already analysed possible sources of background noise that would disturb measurements, and had also designed a detector, a laser-based interferometer, to overcome this noise.
The LIGO project saw more than one thousand researchers from over 20 countries collaborating to achieve an almost fifty-year-old vision.
“The LIGO project’s achievement was using a pair of gigantic laser interferometers to measure a change thousands of times smaller than an atomic nucleus, as the gravitational wave passed the Earth,” said the Nobel team’s statement.
Scientist have already used electromagnetic radiation and particles such as cosmic rays or neutrinos to explore the universe. The latest discovery has proved that there can be disruptions in space and time itself, opening the path to new and unseen worlds.