Nobel Prize: Gravitational Waves

What won the 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics?
10 October 2017

Interview with 

Martin Hendry, Univeristy of Glasgow

Gravitational Waves

Binary Stars


The 2017 Nobel Prize for Physics has been awarded to Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish for their work leading to the first detection of gravitational waves in 2015. Glasgow-based astrophysicist Martin Hendry explains...

Martin - Gravitational waves are ripples in spacetime predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, and produced by some of the most violent events in the cosmos. By the time they reach the Earth, however, gravitational waves disturb our patch of spacetime by a mind bogglingly small amount - a million millionth the width of a human hair.

The 2017 Nobel Prize for physics was awarded to three key figures in the story of LIGO, who helped to develop the incredible technology required to measure those tiny ripples, and to isolate them from all the local disturbances that otherwise could completely drowned them out. The two LIGO facilities, the most sensitive scientific instruments ever built, first detected gravitational waves in 2015 from the merger of two black holes more than a billion light years away.

Katie - LIGO is the instrument used to detect gravitational waves. Using the interference of laser light to detect the squeezing and stretching of spacetime as gravitational waves pass by…

Martin - The LIGO discovery was a huge team effort that involved thousands of scientists across the world, working together over decades to turn what many had considered an impossible dream into the hottest topic in astronomy. But LIGOs first detection of gravitational waves was only the beginning. Since that discovery was announced in February last year, three more detections of merging black holes have been confirmed and we’re seeing the first hints of how this population of black holes fits into the big picture of how the universe evolved.


The detection of the gravitational waves produced by the merger of two neutron stars –GW170817– has allowed scientists to fix at 70 km/s per megaparsec * the value of the increase in speed of the expansion of the universe in the 130 million light years that separate us from the origin of said merger.
As these calculations approach the speed of light throughout the age of the universe, we can do the inverse calculation to determine the average increase in the velocity of expansion so that the observable universe is of the age stated by the Big Bang Theory.
The result is 300.000 km/s /(13.799/3,26) Mpc =70,820 km/s Mpc.

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