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Advanced LIGO detects gravitational waves

Last Updated on Friday, 12 February 2016 11:17
Published on Friday, 12 February 2016 10:21

Scientists have announced the detection of gravitational waves, ripples in spacetime first predicted more than a century ago by Albert Einstein. The detected 'chirp', caused by the merger of two black holes one billion light years away, is likely to be one of the seminal moments in physics in the twenty-first century.

grav wavesjpgSimulation of gravitational waves produced by two black holes colliding. Credit: NASA


The researchers, from countries including the UK, collaborate in the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), two instruments in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington, in the United States. These each consist of two 4-km long arms in an L-shape, and if a gravitational wave passes through the system, it changes the length of the arms by a minute amount. Such a change took place last September, and after months of analysis the team were able to confirm the detection of a gravitational wave.


Prof Mike Cruise, of the University of Birmingham, and also Treasurer of the Royal Astronomical Society, is one of many UK co-authors on the paper that announced the discovery. He said: "Many of us from groups across the UK have spent decades working towards this detection and this is a huge event for the whole of the scientific community. It's hard to overstate the significance of a detection that heralds an entirely new way of studying the universe, which perhaps in future years will be seen as comparable to the invention of the telescope four centuries ago."

 ligo detectionDetection of the same signal at the two LIGO sites confirms gravitational waves. Credit: National Science Foundation

Prof Martin Barstow, President of the Royal Astronomical Society, added: "This is an extraordinary moment in astronomy. The team that made this discovery included scientists from several UK universities - who were trained right here in the UK too - and those groups themselves were truly international in their composition. It sends out the message that collaboration in 'big science' can deliver amazing results and that British astronomers are in the forefront of this field. Congratulations to the whole LIGO team for work that will be remembered centuries from now."