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Nobel Prize goes to physicists who observed gravitational waves

The prize for physics has been awarded to the scientists who observed the ripples through space and time predicted in Einstein's general theory of relativity.

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From left to right: Kip S. Thorne, Barry C. Barish and Rainer Weiss.

N. Elmehed/Nobel Media

The Nobel Prize for physics has been awarded to three scientists who proved Einstein right by observing gravitational waves.

Rainer Weiss, Barry C. Barish and Kip S. Thorne worked on the collaboration between the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a collaborative project with over 1,000 researchers from more than 20 countries, and its European sister facility Virgo. They were given the prize "for decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves."

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A visualisation of the gravity waves caused by two black holes merging.

Henze/NASA

The LIGO first observed signs of gravitational waves on 14 September 2015. The faint signal was initiated 1.3 billion years ago by a collision between two black holes. Albert Einstein predicted these waves as part of his general theory of relativity, which he developed over a century ago. 

Einstein was doubtful that these ripples through space and time could ever be detected, but LIGO has observed two similar events since the first discovery. And a new gravitational wave was observed by the LIGO and Virgo teams on 14 August this year.

"Gravitational waves are an entirely new way of following the most violent events in space and testing the limits of our knowledge," the The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which awards the prize, said in a statement on Tuesday. 

"This is something completely new and different, opening up unseen worlds. A wealth of discoveries awaits those who succeed in capturing the waves and interpreting their message."

Read more: When black holes collide: Scientists find second set of gravitational waves