The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory on Thursday announced that it has detected the existence of gravitational waves, a phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916. Gravitational waves are ripples in the curvature of space-time, which is the very fabric of the universe. These waves are actual physical ripples that move away from each other and closer together, thus stretching and squeezing the space they exist in.
The strongest gravitational waves, which scientists had hoped to detect, occur when objects with tremendous gravity undergo a huge amount of acceleration. For instance, this could happen when two black holes merge to form another, or when massive stars explode. Thursday's discovery was the result of two black holes colliding 1.3 billion light years away, The Guardian reported. Scientists said that it corresponded well with Einstein's theory and that there was no ambiguity in their discovery.
Gravitational waves have indirectly been detected before, but never directly. The new discovery is a game-changer. The waves will help scientists and astronomers examine everything from the essence of a black hole to the big bang itself. It will open up a new field called gravitational wave astronomy, which will help look into the earliest moments of the universe.
Einstein’s theory predicted these waves but said that they would be far too small to be detected. LIGO has a system of two detectors, one in Louisiana and another in Washington, to detect miniscule vibrations passing between gravitational waves. In 1974, the indirect detection of gravitational waves won scientists the Nobel Physics Prize. Experts say the first detection of the waves will be the discovery of the century, and will likely win the same honour.
Here's an explainer video on the phenomenon: