The 2017 Nobel physics prize has gone to three scientists whose work led to the first observation of the universe’s gravitational waves two years ago.
Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne were awarded the prize on Tuesday for their work on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a U.S. research facility that was designed to observe ripples in space-time.
These gravitational waves are caused by the acceleration of massive objects such as neutron stars and black holes. When devising his theory of relativity, Albert Einstein predicted a century ago that such waves exist, but he did not think it possible to measure them.
However, in 2015 the LIGO facility was able to identify waves emitting from a collision between two black holes. Weiss and Thorne pioneered the method that would be used to detect the ripples in the space-time fabric, and Barish led the LIGO project.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prize each year, said the success of the project provided “an entirely new way of observing the most violent events in space and testing the limits of our knowledge.”
“This is something completely new and different, opening up unseen worlds,” it said in a statement. “A wealth of discoveries awaits those who succeed in capturing the waves and interpreting their message.”