After 100 years of theory and decades of experiments, astronomers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory have detected gravitational waves directly for the first time.
Gravitational waves are literally distortions in space-time, ripples in the fabric of the universe. Gravity is the weakest of the four fundamental forces, so only the most extreme events — black holes colliding, neutron stars twirling, a supernova erupting — would produce detectable waves. LIGO’s twin detectors, in Louisiana and Washington state, use lasers to watch for these tiny stretches and squeezes of space-time.
Their finding is one of the biggest scientific discoveries of the decade, if not the century. Not only does it confirm yet another aspect of Albert Einstein’s theory of gravity, known as general relativity, but it also opens another avenue for researchers to observe and study the cosmos.
Follow along as we relive the breakthroughs that got us here and look to the future, where astronomers will now tune in to the sounds of the universe.