Some 1.3 billion years ago a pair of black holes that had been orbiting each other finally smashed into each other with such force that it produced gravitational waves that rang through the universe like a giant bell.
Today at a Washington DC news conference, some 100 years after Albert Einstein predicted their existence in his General Theory of Relativity, scientists with the LIGO Scientific Collaboration announced they were able to observe ripples in the fabric of spacetime and, for the first time ever, were able to detect gravitational waves.
“Our observation of gravitational waves accomplishes an ambitious goal set out over five decades ago to directly detect this elusive phenomenon and better understand the universe, and, fittingly, fulfills Einstein’s legacy on the 100th anniversary of his general theory of relativity,” said David H. Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in a press release.
Back on September 14, 2015 at 0951 UTC, both of LIGO’s twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detectors one located in Livingston, Louisiana, and the other in Hanford, Washington, picked up the final milliseconds of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole.
Not only did LIGO team researchers detect Einstein’s long theorized gravitational waves, but because of the method in which they were produced, were also able to finally confirm the theorized existence of stellar-mass binary black hole systems.
Gabriela González, a spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Louisiana State University said that the cataclysmic explosion, produced by the merger of the two black holes, took place in the southern sky near the Large Magellanic Cloud, a nearby galaxy and a satellite of the Milky Way.
According to a tweet by the National Science Foundation, which hosted the announcement event Thursday at Washington’s National Press Club, each of the black holes in the binary system was thought to be between 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun.
Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the twin LIGO Observatories were devised, constructed, and are being operated by Caltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Details outlining this discovery have been accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters.
LIGO: The First Observation of Gravitational Waves (Caltech)
Listen to the Sound of a Gravitational Wave Captured by LIGO detectors (LIGO)