Outer space
Outer spaceiStock

Three American physicists have been awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their detection of gravitational waves.

Gravitational waves, first predicted by Albert Einstein, emerge from Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which posits that mass causes curvature in spacetime. When massive objects merge, they can cause changes in the texture of spacetime which send ripples across the universe - known as gravitational waves. Up until recently however, scientists had not developed a device sensitive enough to detect the waves.

The three prize winners - MIT emeritus professor of physics Rainer Weiss, Caltech professor of theoretical physics Kip Thorne, and Caltech emeritus professor of particle physics Barry Barish, were instrumental in the development of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, experiment, which made the first observation of gravitational waves in September 2015 by measuring the collision of a pair of black holes. Since then, the detector has measured more black hole collisions, opening the door to the discovery of new types of black holes not previously known to have existed.

Speaking at a press conference, Olga Botner, from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences which grants the prize, said that “The first ever observation of a gravitational wave was a milestone - a window on the Universe."