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The Team That Found Gravitational Waves

Einstein’s general theory of relativity confirmed. We’ll weigh the first evidence of gravitational waves, and what it may mean.

From left, Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Exectutive Director David Reitze, LIGO Scientific Collaboration Spokesperson Gabriela Gonzalez, and Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Co-Founders Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne, appear next to a visual of gravitational waves from two converging black holes during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, to announce that scientists they have finally detected gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

From left, Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Exectutive Director David Reitze, LIGO Scientific Collaboration Spokesperson Gabriela Gonzalez, and Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Co-Founders Rainer Weiss and Kip Thorne, appear next to a visual of gravitational waves from two converging black holes during a news conference at the National Press Club in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

First word came last week from the National Science Foundation, telling the world to stand by for a major scientific announcement. Not many get a drum roll like that. And then it came: word of the first direct evidence of gravitational waves in the universe. All around us. Ripples in space and time posited by Albert Einstein a century ago. Signals – chirps – of a beat to the cosmos. What does it mean? This hour On Point, we go to the team that opened up the universe of gravitational waves.

— Tom Ashbrook

Guests

Nergis Mavalvala, astrophysicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Project lead on LIGO.

Gabriela González, professor of physics at Louisiana State University. Spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration.

Rai Weiss, professor emeritus of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and LIGO co-founder and leader.

From Tom’s Reading List

Science: Gravitational waves, Einstein’s ripples in spacetime, spotted for first time — “Long ago, deep in space, two massive black holes—the ultrastrong gravitational fields left behind by gigantic stars that collapsed to infinitesimal points—slowly drew together. The stellar ghosts spiraled ever closer, until, about 1.3 billion years ago, they whirled about each other at half the speed of light and finally merged. The collision sent a shudder through the universe: ripples in the fabric of space and time called gravitational waves. Five months ago, they washed past Earth. And, for the first time, physicists detected the waves, fulfilling a 4-decade quest and opening new eyes on the heavens.”

New Yorker: Gravitational Waves Exist: The Inside Story of How Scientists Finally Found Them — “Just over a billion years ago, many millions of galaxies from here, a pair of black holes collided. They had been circling each other for aeons, in a sort of mating dance, gathering pace with each orbit, hurtling closer and closer. By the time they were a few hundred miles apart, they were whipping around at nearly the speed of light, releasing great shudders of gravitational energy.”

Vox: Scientists just detected gravitational waves. We’ve entered a whole new world for astronomy. — “One hundred years ago, Albert Einstein predicted that the distortion of spacetime caused by such a collision wouldn’t stop at the site of the collision. Like a ripple on a pond, it would propagate outward in gravitational waves.  Today, scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced, for the very first time, that they’ve directly observed a gravitational wave — proving Einstein right yet again.”

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