The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory on Thursday said that it has detected another merger of two black holes, which created gravitational waves. Scientists detected the black hole mergers on January 4 this year and named the gravitational wave GW170104.

This is the third time the existence of gravitational waves, a phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916, has been confirmed. Bangalore Sathyaprakash, a senior scientist with Ligo, told The Hindu that the detection was “the first time, a chance event; second time, a coincidence, and third, a pattern.” The event was produced by the merger of two black holes, 31 and 19 times bigger than the sun, forming a larger black hole of about 49 solar masses. The results of the observations have been published in the journal, Physical Review Letters. The publication has 40 authors from 11 Indian institutions.

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.

The new observation also supports Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity. According to this theory, gravitational waves do not disperse as they travel through space. 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.

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.

courtesy the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research