Gravitational Waves: 'Discovery That Shook The World' Wins 2017 Nobel Prize In Physics

The 2017 Nobel prize in physics has been awarded to three US scientists for the detection of gravitational waves. Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish will share the nine million kronor (£831,000) prize. The ripples were predicted by Albert Einstein and are a fundamental consequence of his General Theory of Relativity. The winners are members of the Ligo-Virgo observatories, which were responsible for the breakthrough.

The winners join a prestigious list of 204 other Physics laureates recognised since 1901. Prof Weiss gets half of the prize money, while Barish and Thorne will share the other half. Gravitational waves describe the stretching and squeezing of space-time that occurs when massive objects accelerate. The warping of space resulting from the merger of two black holes was initially picked up by the US Ligo laboratory in 2015 - the culmination of a decades-long quest. Three more examples have been detected since then.

Gravitational waves - Ripples in the fabric of space-time

  • Gravitational waves are a prediction of the Theory of General Relativity
  • It took decades to develop the technology to directly detect them
  • They are ripples in the fabric of space-time generated by violent events
  • Accelerating masses will produce waves that propagate at the speed of light
  • Detectable sources ought to include merging black holes and neutron stars
  • Ligo/Virgo fire lasers into long, L-shaped tunnels; the waves disturb the light
  • Detecting the waves opens up the Universe to completely new investigations

This is actually the second Nobel prize to involve gravitational waves. In 1993, Americans Russell Alan Hulse and Joseph Hooton Taylor were awarded the physics prize for work that provided indirect evidence for the warping of space.


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