On Tuesday morning, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in physics to three U.S.-based physicists, half to Rainer Weiss, 85, and the other half split between Barry C. Barish, 81, and Kip S. Thorne, 77, all of whom collaborated in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) collective. The citation credits the three men with "decisive contributions to the LIGO detector and the observation of gravitational waves," realizing a prediction Albert Einstein made 100 years ago.
On Sept. 14, 2015, the LIGO detector in the U.S. observed gravitational waves for the very first time, caused by a collision between two black holes. The faint signal took 1.3 billion years to arrive on Earth, but the observation of them "is already promising a revolution in astrophysics," the Nobel committee said. "The 2017 Nobel Laureates have, with their enthusiasm and determination, each been invaluable to the success of LIGO," with "pioneers" Weiss and Thorne paving the way and Barish bringing "the project to completion" and ensuring "that four decades of effort led to gravitational waves finally being observed." This is the sound of two black holes colliding:
Einstein was convinced that humans would never be able to measure these gravitational waves, the committee noted, and "the LIGO project's achievement was using a pair of gigantic laser interferometers to measure a change thousands of times smaller than an atomic nucleus, as the gravitational wave passed the Earth."