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The Nobel Doesn’t Mean Gravitational Wave Astronomy Is Over; It’s Just Getting Good

10 Oct 2017, 20:01 UTC
The Nobel Doesn’t Mean Gravitational Wave Astronomy Is Over; It’s Just Getting Good LIGO/T. Pyle
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Last week, the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics was announced: to Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne, for their pioneering contributions to gravitational wave astronomy. Of course, the real winner is the LIGO Collaboration, which has consisted of over 1,000 people over a span of more than 40 years. As their experimental apparatus became more and more developed, it grew more sensitive, and capable of detecting progressively smaller ripples in spacetime. In 2015, all those efforts culminated in the first-ever direct detection of a gravitational wave, arising from the merger of two massive black holes some 1.3 billion light years away. The twin LIGO observatories had come through in an incredible fashion, detecting a wave that had compressed the entire Earth by less than the size of an atom. The ripples in space, as produced by inspiraling masses in a strong gravitational field, were detected here on Earth for the first time in just 2015. This marks one of the shortest periods in Nobel Prize history between a scientific discovery and the awarded prize, even though LIGO was 40 years in the making. There was an incredible amount that we can learn from the detectable signal that makes it ...

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