The first direct detection of gravitational waves opens a vast new frontier in astronomy
The first direct detection of gravitational waves (GWs), announced on 11 February 2016, has opened a vast new frontier in astronomy. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of these waves about a century ago as a consequence of his general theory of relativity. Radio astronomy observations of the binary pulsar system PSR 1913 + 16 over a 20 year period beginning in 1975 provided strong observational evidence that gravitational waves carried energy away from the orbits of neutron stars at precisely the level predicted by general relativity (GR). This relentless conversion of orbital energy into gravitational wave energy causes binary orbits to decay until the objects eventually collide and merge. The frontier of precision measurement science, using laser interferometers, was pushed for more than four decades to achieve this first direct detection, marking a milestone in experimental physics and engineering. Even more significantly, this milestone also opens a new window onto our universe and a completely new kind of astronomy to explore.
© 2017 Indian Academy of Sciences. We gratefully acknowledge the National Science Foundation award PHY-0757058 in supporting the LIGO Laboratory and the writing of this paper.
Published - SS237.pdf