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Stephen Hawking hails gravitational wave find

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British physicist Stephen Hawking, who has theorized about black holes for decades, congratulated the scientists behind the first-ever detection of gravitational waves. (Credit: NASA)

British physicist Stephen Hawking says the detection of gravitational waves provides a completely new way of looking at the universe, and is at least as important as thedetection of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider.

The results reported by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory mark the first-ever observations of a black hole merger, and the first of what’s expected to be many observations of gravitational waves. “The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionize astronomy,” Hawking told the BBC after LIGO’s announcement on Feb. 11.

The waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime, set off in the course of gravitational interactions. Their existence was predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity a century ago, but until now, no instruments were sensitive enough to detect them.

LIGO uses two sets of L-shaped detectors in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La. Each detector takes advantage of finely tuned, cross-interfering lasers to register distortions in spacetime that are tinier than one ten-thousandth of the size of a proton.

In addition to confirming a key claim of general relativity, LIGO’s readings provide the best evidence to date that black holes actually exist.

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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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LIGO plans big reveal about gravitational waves

Image: Gravitational waves
This visualization shows gravitational waves produced by two orbiting black holes. (Credit: NASA)

It looks as if scientists have chosen Thursday as the day to announce a potentially Nobel Prize-winning discovery: the first detection of gravitational waves, a century after they were predicted by Albert Einstein.

After months of rumors, simultaneous events have been scheduled for 7:30 a.m. PT in Washington, D.C., as well as in Italy, in Britain – and at Hanford, Wash., where one of the detectors for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory was built a decade and a half ago.

Since then, researchers using the Hanford detector and its twin in Livingston, La., have been looking for the ripples in spacetime created by violent clashes in the distant universe – for example, mergers of two black holes, collisions of neutron stars or the flare-up of supernovae.

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After gravity-wave rumors, it’s go time for LIGO

Image: LIGO optics
Optics technician Gary Traylor uses a light to inspect one of the laser-reflecting mirrors at the LIGO facility in Livingston, La. (Credit: Matt Heintze / Caltech / MIT / LIGO Lab)

The scientists behind the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory are getting ready to reveal their latest findings, amid a flurry of speculation over whether or not they’ve made the first-ever detection of waves rippling through spacetime.

Fred Raab, the head of the LIGO laboratory in Hanford, Wash., isn’t telling.

“As we have done for the past 15 years, we take data, analyze the data, write up the results for publication in scientific journals, and once the results are accepted for publication, we announce results broadly on the day of publication or shortly thereafter,” he told GeekWire in an email.

In a follow-up phone call, Raab noted that if the historical trend holds true, the results should be ready to submit for publication as early as this month.

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