Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 honours gravitational waves discovery

  • Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 honours gravitational waves discovery

Nobel Prize in Physics 2017 honours gravitational waves discovery

The winners, who all work for LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory), were given the prize for "decisive contributions" to a detector that helps detect gravitational waves. And when massive but compact objects like black holes or neutron stars collide, their vast gravity causes space-time to stretch or compress.

Prof Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal & Fellow of Trinity College, University of Cambridge, said: "The Nobel committee has apportioned credit appropriately among three leaders of the LIGO project - outstanding individuals whose contributions were distinctive and complementary".

What does it mean?

In the 1980s, Weiss and Thorne - along with Ronald Drever, who died this past March - proposed building a facility that could detect the gravitational waves that had been predicted by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity. He proposed that the universe is like a fabric made of space and time.

A team from STFC's Rutherford Appleton Laboratory were responsible for the design, technological development and production of the mirror suspensions that provide the stability required to separate out the effects of tiny strains in space time from the much larger effects of seismic vibration. When massive objects merge, this curvature can be altered, sending ripples out across the universe.

Glasgow University physicists played a key role in the detection of gravitational waves, a discovery that has changed the way we understand the universe.

Such an instrument remained a dream until the 1970s.

Weiss earned a doctoral degree in 1962 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and was a professor of physics at MIT, as well.

Weiss won half of this year's prize, with Barish and Thorne sharing the other half.

LIGO includes a pair of 2.5 mile long, L-shaped devices called interferometers that use laser light split into two beams that travel back and forth down its arms. Each tunnel is emptied of all air. When these waves passed the Earth, 1.3 billion years later, they had weakened considerably: the disturbance in spacetime that LIGO measured was thousands of times smaller than an atomic nucleus. They performed groundbreaking experiments with graphene, a lattice of carbon a single atom thick.

The project relied on two facilities in the USA separated by 3,000 miles and a third in Italy (VIRGO) because it is unlikely that interferometers located far apart would feel the same local vibrations and the same time. Since their initial discovery two years ago, three more gravitational waves have been documented.

On 14th Sep, 2015 the LIGO detectors in United States saw space vibrate with gravitational waves, for the very first time. Each of the four detections has been the result of the merger of black holes, but scientists expect to soon capture waves emanating from supernovae (exploding stars) and the merger of neutron stars.

The awarding of the Nobel Prize for the detection of gravitational waves represents an important endorsement of the sophisticated LIGO research initiatives led by the Nobel Laureates, and the new field of gravitational-wave astronomy.