Gravitational-wave astronomy starts in earnest

THE timing was impeccable, to the point where one might wonder if it had been stage-managed. Less than two weeks after Sweden’s Royal Academy of Science announced that it was awarding this year’s Nobel physics prize “for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves”, that detector has come up with its most interesting finding yet.

LIGO is the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. Actually, it is two observatories, 3,002km apart in the American states of Louisiana and Washington—a degree of separation ensuring that only disturbances registered by both are considered as coming from outer space. Its purpose, as its name suggests, is to detect gravitational waves. These are ripples in space, propagated at the speed of light, that are created by tumultuous astronomical events involving gargantuan bodies. Their existence was predicted, just over a century ago, by the mathematics of Albert Einstein’s general theory…Continue reading

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