Science magazine has awarded its highest yearly honor to an experiment which looked for ripples in the fabric of the universe. The Breakthrough of the Year goes to scientists who built and use the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).
The magazine announced the award, Dec. 22, which represents one of the many recognitions the team of scientists has received for the astronomic efforts.
Gravitational Waves, A Scientific Fact
Back in 1915, more than a century ago, Albert Einstein predicted the idea of gravitational waves. However, it is only now that the first official detection of this cosmic phenomenon has been officially reported. In February 2016, the LIGO researchers made public the first evidence of the spacetime ripples in the continuum. The phenomenon was caused by the collision of two black holes.
The reason why the LIGO instruments are believed to be the most precise measuring devices ever built is that they have managed to record the very tiny changes created by the gravitational waves. Among the causes that made this pursuit so difficult, one of the most notable is the small dimension of the perturbations, which requires an extraordinarily precise instrument in order for them to be detected and quantified.
This is why, although indirect proof of the gravitational waves was identified since the 1970s, it took decades to subject them to undeniable scientific measurements.
"The discovery of ripples in space-time – gravitational waves – shook the scientific world this year. But instead of the end of the story, scientists see the discovery as the birth of a new field: gravitational wave astronomy," noted Adrian Cho, Science reporter, in an article.
Following this discovery, scientists all over the world are thrilled to see what follows. As gravitational waves constitute a promising way to peer into the cosmos, researchers hope to observe more similar events.
Additionally, the LIGO team has already spotted a second black hole merger, as well as a third signal, although weaker than the first two. What is truly astonishing about the interferometers is that they are designed to have the capacity to observe black hole mergers daily, should they reach the full capacity of the functionalities they were built to have.
The interferometers resumed their activities in November 2016, and the scientific community is eager to find more and more occurrences, which will change the way we perceive the spacetime continuum.
Einstein And The Prediction Of Gravitational Waves
Aside from having anticipated this discovery a century prior to when it was confirmed through scientific means, Einstein also discovered that space and time are not separate notions, but complementary elements of a single unit, a fabric that ties together everything through which the cosmos moves. However, through their movement, very massive objects can fracture this continuum, creating ripples in their way. In February and June 2016, the LIGO team observed two different signals of such gravitational waves, both created by two black holes merging into each other.