They have helped to prove the existence of space distorting gravitational waves - first predicted 100-years ago by Albert Einstein, but never before seen until now.
Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time, which carry information about space phenomena never before observed.
Boffins hope, unlike using a traditional telescope, Gravitational Wave astronomy will now help us to understand some of the most violent events in the cosmos, including exploding stars, colliding black holes, perhaps even the Big Bang itself.
When microwave observations first found faint imprints of the Big Bang, Stephen Hawking called it the “greatest discovery of the century, if not all time”. Today’s announcement is another giant leap for mankind.
Dr Ed Daw, of the University of Sheffield’s Physics Department, helped with the research leading to the history making global announcement this afternoon at simultaneous press conferences in Washington DC, Louisiana, London and Paris.
Before joining Sheffield he worked for five years at LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory), in the USA and for his PhD he worked on the American axion search experiment looking for dark matter.
Dr Daw has been working on gravitational wave data analysis, as a member of the LIGO scientific collaboration.
Explaining today’s announcement he said: “Today is a great day for the type of science I do.”LIGO and the collaborators working on it, including the University of Sheffield, are announcing the discovery of gravitational waves for the first time - from a source which went off more than 100 million years ago. We couldn’t be more thrilled with this great announcement. We look forward to the future of the science of the field.”
Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity first predicted the existence of the mysterious waves in 1916. He believed that cataclysmic events such as two black holes colliding would create the waves, which allow massive objects in space to become curved.
But only now has super sensitive equipment been developed to detect them.
LIGO uses 4km-long pipes to detect the waves, 3000 kilometres apart, in Washington and Louisiana. They pick up passing gravitational waves by measuring how space-time stretches and contracts – by as little as one ten-thousandth the diameter of a proton.
It confirms that massive objects like black holes and neutron stars warp space-time around themselves, and when two collide the distortions ripple outward at the speed of light.