Gravitational wave discovery ‘opens up an entirely new window on nature’

11 February 2016

Scientists from Caltech, MIT and the LIGO Scientific Collaboration have detected ripples in the fabric of space-time called gravitational waves. 

The waves, which have never been directly detected before, are a signature of massive collisions in the universe and could give clues about the history of the universe- including what happened at the big bang.

Brian Cox, Royal Society Professor for Public Engagement in Science said, ‘This is a very exciting discovery for two reasons. Firstly, it confirms yet again that Einstein’s theory of General Relativity, published 101 years ago, is a supremely precise description of space and time, gravity and the evolution of the Universe. This result is a highly non-trivial prediction, and it is a triumph of high-precision experimental physics that such subtle shifts in spacetime at the level of a millionth of the size of an atom have been detected. 

Secondly, and even more excitingly, this opens up an entirely new way of observing the Universe. We can now observe collisions between black holes, probing gravity in ever more exotic and extreme situations, and look back in time far closer to the big bang than ever before. Gravitational wave astronomy opens up an entirely new window on nature.’

The existence of gravitational waves was first predicted 100 years ago by Einstein, a Foreign Member of the Royal Society. The observation announced today, made using two identical detectors which pick up tiny vibrations from the waves, marks a landmark in the study of the universe.  

Professor Alex Halliday FRS, Vice President and Physical Secretary of the Royal Society said, ‘It’s a brilliant example of science in action that a century on scientists have now found the evidence to support Einstein’s hypothesis.

Being able to see these ripples in space-time, which are the signature of massive collisions in space, will advance our understanding of fundamental physics in new directions and could give us more clues about the birth of the universe at the big bang. 

This exciting news is a breakthrough in our knowledge about the universe. It shows just how much more there is left for the next generation of cosmologists to discover.’