"Ripples in Spacetime!" --2017 Nobel Prize Won By American Trio for Discovery of Gravitational Waves (WATCH Video)
Fundamentally, the detection of gravitational waves was a huge deal, as it was a confirmation of a key prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Following the epic discovery “We looked closer at the astrophysics of the actual result, a merger of two 30-solar-mass black holes," said professor of physics & astronomy James Bullock at University of California Irvine. "That was simply astounding and had us asking, ‘How common are black holes of this size, and how often do they merge?’ We think we’ve shown that there are as many as 100 million black holes in our Milky Way galaxy.”
The discovery of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were first anticipated by Albert Einstein a century ago clinched the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics for Rainer Weiss, Barry C Barish and Kip S Thorne. The trio were honored for their leading role in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or Ligo, experiment, which made the first historic observation of gravitational waves signals from two black holes colliding.
Weiss, emeritus professor of physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is an experimentalist and made a major contribution to the concept, design, funding and eventual construction of Ligo.
Kip Thorne, the Feynman professor of theoretical physics at California Institute of Technology, is a theorist and made crucial predictions of what the detection of a gravitational wave would actually look like and how to identify that signal within the data.
Barry Barish, a former particle physicist at California Institute of Technology (now emeritus professor) is widely credited for getting the experiment off the ground. When he took over as the second director of Ligo in 1994, the project was at risk of being cancelled. Barish turned things around and saw it through to construction in 1999, and its first measurements three years later.
Ronald Drever, a Scottish physicist, who alongside Weiss and Thorne played a leading role in developing Ligo, died in March from dementia less than 18 months after gravitational waves were first detected. The Nobel prize is not normally awarded posthumously.
Speaking at a press conference after the announcement, Weiss described receiving the phone call this morning as “really wonderful”. “I view this more as a thing that recognises the work of about 1,000 people. I hate to tell you but it’s as long as 40 years of people thinking about this, trying to make a detection … and slowly but surely getting the technology together to do it.”
Weiss said he could not believe the team’s discovery at first. “It took us a long time – almost two months – to convince ourselves that we had seen something from the outside that was truly a gravitational wave.”
Here's the official Nobel Prize Announcement:
On 14 September 2015, the universe's gravitational waves were observed for the very first time. The waves came from a collision between two black holes. It took 1.3 billion years for the waves to arrive at the LIGO detector in the USA.
The signal was extremely weak when it reached Earth, but is already promising a revolution in astrophysics. Gravitational waves are an entirely new way of observing the most violent events in space and testing the limits of our knowledge.
LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, is a collaborative project with over one thousand researchers from more than twenty countries. Together, they have realised a vision that is almost fifty years old. The 2017 Nobel Laureates have, with their enthusiasm and determination, each been invaluable to the success of LIGO. Pioneers Rainer Weiss and Kip S. Thorne, together with Barry C. Barish, the scientist and leader who brought the project to completion, ensured that four decades of effort led to gravitational waves finally being observed.
In the mid-1970s, Rainer Weiss had already analysed possible sources of background noise that would disturb measurements, and had also designed a detector, a laser-based interferometer, which would overcome this noise. Early on, both Kip Thorne and Rainer Weiss were firmly convinced that gravitational waves could be detected and bring about a revolution in our knowledge of the universe.
Gravitational waves spread at the speed of light, filling the universe, as Albert Einstein described in his general theory of relativity. They are always created when a mass accelerates, like when an ice-skater pirouettes or a pair of black holes rotate around each other. Einstein was convinced it would never be possible to measure them. 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.
So far all sorts of electromagnetic radiation and particles, such as cosmic rays or neutrinos, have been used to explore the universe. However, 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.