The biggest science story of 2016 was a century in the making, and will surely earn someone a Nobel Prize. The first detection of gravitational waves from the crash of two black holes is important not only for the physics of the past and present, but for the physics of the future as well.
The discovery – made by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO – serves as powerful confirmation for Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which was published in 1916. It also points the way for scientists to study black holes and other exotic phenomena that can’t be observed using the traditional tools of astronomy.
“What’s really exciting is what comes next,” David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory, said when the discovery was announced in February. “I think we’re opening a window on the universe – a window of gravitational wave astronomy.”