MARK GARLICK / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY MARK GARLICK / SCIENCE PHOTO LIBRARY
Animation of a gravitational wave arriving at Earth, stretching it as it passes through. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime that are produced by any asymmetric system that features a change in acceleration. The waves are strongest for very massive objects moving extremely quickly, such as binary black holes or neutron stars. The waves propagate out from the system at the speed of light, as predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity. The first gravitational waves were detected on Earth in 2016, by the LIGO and Virgo interferometers in the USA and Italy respectively. They detected waves from the merger of two black holes, which changed the length of their detectors by a ten-thousandth of the width of a proton. The Nobel Prize for Physics in 2017 was awarded to Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish for their work in the discovery.
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