The first direct detection of gravitational waves is now widely expected to be announced on February 11 by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Using LIGO’s twin giant detectors—one in Livingston, Louisiana, and the other in Hanford, Washington—researchers are said to have measured ripples in space-time produced by a collision between two black holes.

Such an announcement would vindicate Albert Einstein’s prediction of gravitational waves, which he made almost exactly 100 years ago as part of his general theory of relativity—but it would also have much further significance. As vibrations in the fabric of space-time, gravitational waves are often compared to sound, and have even been converted into sound snippets. In effect, gravitational-wave telescopes allow scientists to ‘hear’ phenomena at the same time as light-based telescopes ‘see’ them. (Already, members of LIGO and its  smaller counterpart Virgo in Pisa, Italy have set up a system for alerting communities working on other types of telescope).

When LIGO fought to get US government funding in the early 1990s, its major opponents at congressional hearings were astronomers. “The general view was that LIGO didn’t have much to do with astronomy,” says Clifford Will, a general-relativity theorist at the University of Florida in Gainesville and an early LIGO supporter. But things have changed now, he says.


Interferometer:n. 干涉仪

ripples:n. 涟漪;波纹

vindicate:vt. 澄清(某人/某事物)受到的责难或嫌疑

vibrations:n. 震动

snippets:n. 小片;片段

congressional:adj. 会议的; 委员会的


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