Nobel Prize Awarded to Scientists Who Discovered Gravitational Waves

Tuesday, 03 October 2017 - 7:40PM
Space
Astrophysics
Black Holes
Tuesday, 03 October 2017 - 7:40PM
Nobel Prize Awarded to Scientists Who Discovered Gravitational Waves
NASA
It's been a fun few years for astronomers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). In just a few short years, astronomers have gone from merely theorizing about the existence of gravitational waves, to finding ways to detect these spacial anomalies, before going on to use these waves to plot out the geography of black holes that exist far beyond our solar system.

Considering just how meaningful and impactful LIGO's work on gravitational waves has been, it's no real surprise that the scientists who initially made this breakthrough have now been awarded the most prestigious honor that can be bestowed by the scientific community. Well, the most prestigious honor apart from appearing on an episode of Bill Nye's new Netflix show, of course.

MIT's Rainer Weiss, and Caltech's Kip Thorne and Barry Barish, are all to be awarded a Nobel Prize "for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves," and for the way this new discovery has shaped our understanding of the universe and helped us develop a whole new method of analyzing the movement of various celestial bodies.

According to an official press statement from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences:

Opening quote
"Gravitational waves are direct testimony to disruptions in spacetime itself. This is something completely new and different, opening up unseen worlds. A wealth of discoveries awaits those who succeed in capturing the waves and interpreting their message."
Closing quote


It's difficult to explain what precisely gravitational waves are, but LIGO offers a simplified explanation that "gravitational waves are 'ripples' in the fabric of space-time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the universe," such as supernovas and black hole collisions.

Our current ability to measure and record gravitational waves is the culmination of decades of research, theorizing, and speculation about how spacetime works. Mileva Marić and her husband Albert Einstein theorized about the existence of these waves in their work on general relativity, but it was believed at the time that measuring such spacetime anomalies would be impossible.



For decades, Rainer Weiss has worked to definitively measure and record these waves, effectively discovering them and turning an abstract physics theory into something with practical application to humanity's understanding of how the universe works, and how we can better explore it without having to travel faster than the speed of light.

The first waves that Weiss, along with Thorne and Barish, first recorded had been traveling the universe for 1.3 billion Earth years, having been produced by two black holes merging a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

So congratulations to the scientists who've won the prize, and the wider team at LIGO who are no doubt also celebrating this today. Quite aside from the accolades and the comfy cash prize, it's always nice to get recognition for a job well done.
Science
Science News
Space
Astrophysics
Black Holes
No