Sun | Dec 17, 2017

Einstein proof: Nobel winners find ripples in the universe

Published:Wednesday | October 4, 2017 | 12:00 AM
In this February 11, 2016 file photo, Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) co-founder Rainer Weiss (left), and Kip Thorne (right), hug on stage accompanied by LIGO Exectutive Director David Reitze (bottom), during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, USA.


Three US-based scientists won the Nobel Physics Prize yesterday for detecting faint ripples flying through the universe the gravitational waves predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein that provide a new understanding of the universe.

Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Barry Barish and Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology won the 2017 prize for a combination of highly advanced theory and ingenious equipment design, Sweden's Royal Academy of Sciences announced.

The scientists were key to the first observation of gravitational waves in September 2015. When the discovery was announced several months later, it was a sensation not only among scientists but the general public.

"It's a win for the human race as a whole. These gravitational waves will be powerful ways for the human race to explore the universe," said Thorne, speaking by phone with The Associated Press from California.

"I view this more as a thing that recognises the work of a thousand people," Weiss told reporters at the announcement news conference.




The prize is "a win for Einstein, and a very big one", Barish told the AP.

The German-born Weiss was awarded half of the nine-million-kronor (US$1.1 million) prize amount and Thorne and Barish will split the other half.

Gravitational waves are extremely faint ripples in the fabric of space and time, generated by some of the most violent events in the universe. The waves detected by the laureates came from the collision of two black holes some 1.3 billion light-years away. A light-year is about 5.88 trillion miles.

Ariel Goobar of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said the winners' work meant "we can study processes which were completely impossible, out of reach to us in the past."

"The best comparison is when Galileo discovered the telescope, which allowed us to see that Jupiter had moons. And all of a sudden, we discovered that the universe was much vaster than we used to think about," Goobar said.

With the technology that the three developed "we may even see entirely new objects that we haven't even imagined yet", said Patrick Sutton, an astronomer at Cardiff University in Wales.