For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime, called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.
Gravitational waves carry information about their dramatic origins and about the nature of gravity that cannot otherwise be obtained. Physicists have concluded that the detected gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole. This collision of two black holes had been predicted but never observed.
The gravitational waves were detected on Sept. 14, 2015, at 4:51 a.m. CST by both of the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, detectors, located in Livingston, La., and Hanford, Wash. The LIGO Observatories are funded by the National Science Foundation, or NSF, and were conceived, built and are operated by Caltech and MIT. The discovery, accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters, was made by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, which includes the GEO Collaboration, the Australian Consortium for Interferometric Gravitational Astronomy and the Virgo Collaboration using data from the two LIGO detectors.
The LIGO Livingston observatory is located on LSU property, and LSU faculty, students and research staff are major contributors to the 15-nation international LIGO Science Collaboration, or LSC. More than 1,000 scientists from universities around the U.S. and 14 other countries conduct LIGO research as members of the LSC. More than 90 universities and research institutes in the LSC develop detector technology and analyze data; about 250 students are strong contributing members of the collaboration. The LSC detector network includes the LIGO interferometers and the GEO600 detector. The GEO team includes scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute, AEI), Leibniz Universität Hannover along with partners at the University of Glasgow, Cardiff University, the University of Birmingham, other universities in the United Kingdom and the University of the Balearic Islands in Spain.
LSU Physics & Astronomy Professor Gabriela González is the elected spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a group of more than 1,000 scientists who have been working toward the detection of gravitational waves.
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