IN A LANDMARK discovery for physics and astronomy, international scientists announced today that they have glimpsed gravitational waves, or ripples in space and time, which Albert Einstein predicted a century ago.
When two black holes collided some 1.3 billion years ago, the joining of those two great masses sent forth a wobble that hurtled through space and arrived at Earth on September 14, 2015, when it was picked up sophisticated, US-based instruments, researchers announced at a press conference in the US capital.
The announcement could open a new window on the universe.
The existence of gravitational waves was first proposed by Albert Einstein 100 years ago as a prediction in his theory of general relativity.
However, their existence has never been proven since, despite years of work from teams of researchers utilising huge laser instruments.
Now, scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) who have been working on the detection of these waves for years, have announced their existence.
The announcement of a press conference revived rumours that have been circulating in the scientific community for months that the LIGO team may have indeed directly detected gravitational waves for the first time.
What are the waves?
Gravitational waves are produced by disturbances in the fabric of space and time when a massive object moves, like a black hole or a neutron star.
Einstein theorized that they would appear like ripples in a pond that form when a stone is thrown in the water, or like a net that bows under the weight of an object placed within — with the net serving as a metaphor for the bending of space-time.
The team announced today that they have observed the collision of two black holes and their fusion — leading to the detection of gravitational waves.
The ability to observe these gravitational waves will offer astronomers and physicists a new look at the most mysterious workings of the universe, including the fusion of neutron stars and the behaviours of black holes, which are often found in the centres of galaxies.
New Scientist magazine reports that this will mark the beginning of a new kind of astronomy, giving scientists a new eye through which to view the universe.
With reporting from Cormac Fitzgerald.