Wed, Oct 04, 2017 - Page 1 News List

Three win Nobel for gravitational waves discovery


A combination of undated handout photos shows California Institute of Technology physicists Barry Barish, left, and Kip Thorne, center, and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Rainer Weiss, who share this year’s Nobel Prize in Physics.

Photo: Reuters

The Nobel Physics Prize has been awarded to three scientists for their discoveries of faint ripples flying through the universe called gravitational waves — proof of a theory developed by Albert Einstein a century ago and that scientists say fundamentally alters our understanding of the universe.

Sweden’s Royal Academy of Sciences yesterday announced that the winners are Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Barry Barish and Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

They made their discovery in September 2015 and announced it in February last year, a historic achievement that culminated from decades of scientific research.

Since then, they have clinched all the major astrophysics prizes to be had.

Thorne and Weiss cocreated the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) at Caltech. Barish then brought the project to completion.

The first-ever direct observation of gravitational waves was the result of an event about 1.3 billion light-years away.

“Although the signal was extremely weak when it reached Earth, it is already promising a revolution in astrophysics. Gravitational waves are an entirely new way of following the most violent events in space and testing the limits of our knowledge,” the academy said.

Since 2015, the enigmatic ripples have been detected three more times: twice more by LIGO and once by the Virgo detector at the European Gravitational Observatory in Cascina, Italy.

“Gravitational waves spread at the speed of light, filling the universe, as Albert Einstein described in his general theory of relativity. They are always created when a mass accelerates, like when an ice-skater pirouettes or a pair of black holes rotate around each other,” the Nobel jury said.

“Einstein was convinced it would never be possible to measure them. The LIGO project’s achievement was using a pair of gigantic laser interferometers to measure a change thousands of times smaller than an atomic nucleus, as the gravitational wave passed the Earth,” it said.

Black holes emit no light and therefore can only be observed through the gravitational waves.

“Gravitational waves, which rhythmically stretch and squeeze space, change tone as their message alters. If we could hear all the waves and not only the strongest ones, the entire universe would be full of music, like birds chirping in a forest, with a louder tone here and a quieter one there,” the academy said.

German-born Weiss was awarded half of the 9 million kronor (US$1.1 million) prize amount, and Thorne and Barish is to split the other half.

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