Scientists detect gravitational waves at last

Image: Black hole merger
A computer simulation shows two black holes shortly before they merge into one. (Credit: SXS)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After more than a decade of looking, scientists say they’ve detected the gravitational waves given off when two black holes merged into one bigger black hole.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have detected gravitational waves. We did it!” Caltech physicist David Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, declared at the National Press Club on Feb. 11.

Reitze compared the LIGO project to a “scientific moonshot,” and then added, “We landed on the moon.”

The news was greeted with applause at the Washington briefing – and at a gathering of scientists and journalists in Hanford, Wash., the home of one of LIGO’s miles-long, L-shaped detectors.

The detection represents what’s likely to be a Nobel Prize-worthy discovery. It provides the best confirmation yet for a claim made a century ago in Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity: that gravitational interactions should give off energy in the form of ripples in the fabric of spacetime.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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