Gravitational waves detected 100 years after Einstein's prediction

LIGO opens new window on the Universe with observation of gravitational waves from colliding black holes – key contributions from Max Planck Society and Leibniz Universität Hannover researchers

February 11, 2016

For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.

Researchers' voices

Dr. Hartmut Grote (expert on: experimental aspects of GW detectors, GEO600, Advanced LIGO): “Ein wirklicher Meilenstein der Messtechnik, an dem wir Jahrzehnte gearbeitet haben! Ich bin sehr beeindruckt von der Vorstellung, dass eine Krümmung der Raumzeit als Welle durch das Weltall läuft, und uns, wie in diesem Fall, Signale von Schwarzen Löchern bringt.

Apl. Prof. Dr. Gerhard Heinzel (expert on: experimental aspects of GW detectors, signal recycling, LISA): Was wir vor 20 Jahren hier im Labor ausprobiert haben, funktioniert nun reibungslos und vollautomatisch auf vier Kilometer Länge. Und endlich ist ein Ergebnis da, keine technische Rauschkurve mehr sondern ein gigantisches Ereignis aus dem fernen Universum. Ein Traum ist wahr geworden!

Dr. Harald Lück (expert on: experimental aspects of GW detectors, GEO600, Einstein Telescope): Nun ist es tatsächlich wahr geworden: zum ersten Mal haben wir den Klang des Weltalls gehört! Unglaublich, dass dieses Signal, das nur klingt wie ein kurzer Schluckauf, von dem gewaltigsten Ereignis produziert wurde, was Menschen je beobachtet haben - für den Bruchteil einer Sekunde kraftvoller als das ganze Universum zusammen.

Apl. Prof. Dr. Benno Willke (expert on: experimental aspects of GW detectors, aLIGO lasers): Diese Entdeckung übersteigt die menschliche Vorstellungskraft: Vor mehr als einer Milliarde Jahren sind zwei schwarze Löcher miteinander verschmolzen und haben dabei dreimal die Masse unserer Sonne in Gravitationswellenstrahlung umgewandelt. Diese Strahlung hat im September letzten Jahres auf der Erde den Abstand von zwei 40 Kilogramm schweren Spiegeln um weniger als ein tausendstel eines Atomkerndurchmessers verändert und wir waren in der Lage dies zu messen! Unvorstellbar! Es ist ein erhebendes Gefühl, dass wir am Albert-Einstein-Institut und am Laser Zentrum Hannover e.V. die Laser entwickelt und gebaut haben, die diese Entdeckung ermöglicht haben.

Dr. Collin Capano (expert on: searches for gravitational waves from coalescing compact objects, GW150914): My first encounter with GW150914 was my colleague next door banging on my office wall to show me the plot. When it became clear that it was not an injection, I was overwhelmed with excitment. I remember turning to Badri and asking, "What do we do now?"

Dr. Marco Drago (expert on: search pipeline which discovered the signal (coherent wave burst), GW150914): I did not think it was real when I saw it. When I went to a colleagues office to talk to him about this, I did not say something like: "I saw an event", I asked: "Do you know if someone is doing hardware injections?"

Dr. Andrew Lundgren (expert on: aLIGO detectors, detector characterization, searches for gravitational waves from coalescing compact objects, black holes, GW150914): I never dreamt that one plot could change my view of the universe so much. Not only did we get a beautifully clear first detection, we’ve seen the first glimpse of a universe full of more activity in gravitational waves than we had ever imagined.

Dr. Reinhard Prix (expert on: searches for continuous gravitational waves): „Gleich dieses erste Signal stellte sich als extrem reichhaltig für die Physik heraus, weit mehr als nur eine erster Nachweis: verschelzende schwarze Löcher, die wunderbare Tests der Allgemeinen Relativitätstheorie erlaubten, mit astrophysikalische interessanten Massen, und vielem mehr. Die Ära der Gravitationswellen-Astronomie ist schon mit dieser ersten Beobachtung voll durchgestartet!

Dr. Thomas Dent (expert on: searches for compact binary coalescence signals, optimizing search methods to distinguish between signals and detector artefacts, estimating the rate of binary black hole mergers in the Universe based on the detection): Although it was inevitable that a detection would be made at some point, there was a strong element of luck that it was so early and so clear - it has resulted in a great opportunity for gravitational wave science.

Dr. Alex Nielsen (expert on: black holes, searches for gravitational waves from coalescing compact objects): Black holes are mysterious objects. They are right on the frontier of human knowledge. Today's result is the beginning of observing black holes in a way that was not possible before. The discovery indicates that in the coming years we will see many more black holes like this. It marks the beginning of pushing back the frontiers of human knowledge in a major way.

Dr. Alexander Nitz (expert on: searches for compact binary coalescence signals, software which carried out the most sensitive search for GW150914 presented in the detection paper): I never expected that we'd find anything this early on, and the signal was so loud that my first reaction was that it could not possibly be real. How glad I am to be wrong.

Dr. Tito Dal Canton (expert on: searches for compact binary coalescence signals, software which carried out the most sensitive search for GW150914 presented in the detection paper): Nature really surprised me with such a loud and high-mass signal so early in the advanced detector era. I can't wait to see the data from future scientific runs and I look forward to the detection of binaries containing neutron stars.

Dr. Roland Haas (expert on: numerical-relativity modeling of compact-object binaries): I was actually on vacation at the time of the detection, so when I returned to the Albert-Einstein Institute everybody was already hard at work analysing the data. What we had expected to be rare event turned out to have occured quite early on in LIGOs lifetime and we all focused on learning as much as we could from the event, doing work within weeks that we had not expected to attempt for months in the future.

Dr. Ian Harry (expert on: searches for gravitational waves from coalescing compact objects, GW150914): I've been working on searches for compact-object mergers since 2007. When I first saw this signal in the data I didn't believe it was real. We never expected the first event to be so loud and clear. As Advanced LIGO rapidly becomes more and more sensitive, we look forward to seeing the field of gravitational-wave astronomy bloom in the coming years.

Dr. M. Alessandra Papa (expertise: data analysis in the low signal-to-noise ratio regime, gravitational wave searches): The detection of GW150914 is exciting beyond words: GW150914 represents the first direct detection of gravitational waves, is the first direct messenger of the dynamics of space-time in the strong-field and high-velocity regime, and its signal is strong enough to make this a text-book example. It was an honour to be able to play a role in this historical result. In particular I chaired the committee that reviewed the generic transients search that identified GW150914 within three minutes of data acquisition and was part of the team of six people who functioned as editors of the detection paper.

Dr. Vivien Raymond (expert on: follow-up analyses of coalescing compact objects, GW150914): This is such an amazing start to what we call the "advanced detector era"! Before even starting, we made the most impressive discovery we could hope for.”

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