The 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded Tuesday morning to three pioneers of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, which announced last year the world's first direct detection of gravitational waves.
On Sept. 14, 2015, LIGO's observatories in Livingston Parish and Hanford, Washington, detected tiny ripples in the fabric of space-time caused by the merger of two massive black holes about 1.3 billion years ago. The discovery confirmed a major prediction of Albert Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity and opened a new window onto the cosmos.
Sweden's Royal Academy of Sciences announced Tuesday that the winners are LSU Adjunct Professor and MIT Professor Emeritus Rainer Weiss and California Institute of Technology professors emeriti Barry Barish and Kip Thorne. Weiss and Thorne are co-founders of LIGO, and Barish led the final design stage, construction and commissioning of the LIGO interferometers in Livingston and Hanford, Washington.
LIVINGSTON — More than a billion years ago, two black holes collided and merged, creating gr…
When the discovery was announced several months later, it was a sensation not only among scientists but the general public.
"The best comparison is when Galileo discovered the telescope, which allowed us to see that Jupiter had moons and all of a sudden we discovered that the universe was much vaster than we used to think about. With this discovery we can study processes which were completely impossible, out of reach to us in the past," said Ariel Goobar of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
With the technology that the three developed "We may even see entirely new objects that we haven't even imagined yet," said Patrick Sutton, an astronomer at Cardiff University in Wales.
Weiss, in a phone call with the announcement news conference at the Swedish academy, said "I view this more as a thing that recognizes the work of a thousand people."
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LSU congratulated the founders and the whole LIGO team. The university's faculty and administration, including Chancellor Emeritus James Wharton, played a key role in bringing LIGO to Louisiana, and LSU owns the land where the Livingston Observatory is located.
LSU faculty, students and research staff also are major contributors to the LIGO Science Collaboration, a group of more than 1,000 scientists, including about 250 students, from 16 countries. Representatives from more than 90 universities and research institutes work as members of the LSC to develop detector technology and analyze data.
Gravitational waves are extremely faint ripples in the fabric of space and time, generated by some of the most violent events in the universe.
The waves detected by the laureates came from the collision of two black holes some 1.3 billion light-years away. A light-year is about 5.88 trillion miles.
The waves were predicted by Einstein a century ago as part of his theory of general relativity. General relativity says that gravity is caused by heavy objects bending space-time, which itself is the four-dimensional way that astronomers see the universe.
The German-born Weiss was awarded half of the 9-million-kronor ($1.1 million) prize amount and Thorne and Barish will split the other half.
Weiss in the 1970s designed a laser-based device that would overcome background noise that would disturb measurements of gravitational waves. He, Thorne and Barish "ensured that four decades of effort led to gravitational waves finally being observed," the Nobel announcement said.
The announcement said Einstein was convinced that gravitational waves could never be measured. The laureates used laser devices "to measure a change thousands of times smaller than an atomic nucleus."
Scientists with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory continue to haul in …
In a moment of poetry aimed at making the distant and infinitesimal phenomenon understandable to non-experts, the academy announcement said gravitational waves "are always created when a mass accelerates, like when an ice-skater pirouettes or a pair of black holes rotate around each other."
For the past 25 years, the physics prize has been shared among multiple winners.
Last year's prize went to three British-born researchers who applied the mathematical discipline of topology to help understand the workings of exotic matter such as superconductors and superfluids. In 2014, a Japanese and a Canadian shared the physics prize for studies that proved that the elementary particles called neutrinos have mass.
A team of international scientists, including a group from LSU, has made another monumental …