A decade of Physics World breakthroughs: 2016 and 2017 – the rise of gravitational-wave observation and multimessenger astronomy - Astronomy and space – Physics World11 Dec 2019, 14:31 UTC
One of the biggest scientific discoveries of the past decade – possibly even the last century – was the first ever direct observation of gravitational waves by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, winners of the Physics World 2016 Breakthrough of the Year.
On 15 September 2015, ripples in space-time produced by two merging black holes were detected by LIGO’s newly upgraded twin interferometers in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington, US. “I’d been working on LIGO for a little over 16 years at that point,” explains Amber Stuver of Villanova University in the US, “and to have a detection roll in on the first day of observation with Advanced LIGO was beyond shocking. I’d been expecting a detection within the first year, not on the first day!” The resulting chirp-and-ringdown waveform LIGO presented to the public in February 2016 provided evidence for one of the last unverified predictions of Einstein’s theory of relativity. And it wasn’t a one-off – just four months later, in June 2016, the collaboration announced they’d observed a second binary black hole coalescence on Boxing Day 2015.
Naturally, for such ground-breaking discoveries, the LIGO collaboration was awarded our Breakthrough of the Year prize for 2016. But ...