Galactic discovery in Southeast Louisiana leads to Nobel Prizes

Two black holes collided 1.8 billion light years away, sending gravitational waves through space, time and... us. Veuer's Josh King has the story (@abridgetoland).

LIVINGSTON, LA. - The Nobel Physics Prize 2017 has been awarded to three scientists for their discoveries in gravitational waves.

Sweden’s Royal Academy of Sciences announced Tuesday that the winners are Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Barry Barish and Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology.

The three were key to the first observation of gravitational waves in September 2015. The waves were detected by two observatories located in Livingston, La. and Hanford, Wash. 

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) Livingston observatory is located on LSU property and is just 25 miles from the university's main campus. LSU says faculty, staff and researchers are major contributors to the international LIGO Science Collaboration.

“We are thrilled for Rai, Kip and Barry to be named Nobel Laureates and are proud of the work done by the many people over many decades in the LSC to support and continue their vision,” Gabriela González said.

González, an LSU professor of physics and astronomy, is the former spokesperson who led the LSC at the time of the initial detection. 

When the discovery was announced several months later, it was a sensation not only among scientists but the general public.

Gravitational waves are extremely faint ripples in the fabric of space and time, generated by some of the most violent events in the universe.

Weiss, in a phone call with the news conference at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, said “I view this more as a thing that recognizes the work of a thousand people.”

Gravitational waves were predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago as part of his theory of general relativity. General relativity says that gravity is caused by heavy objects bending space-time, which itself is the four-dimensional way that astronomers see the universe.

The waves detected by the laureates came from the collision of two black holes some 1.3 billion light-years away. A light-year is about 5.88 trillion miles.

The German-born Weiss was awarded half of the 9-million-kronor ($1.1 million) prize amount and Thorne and Barish will split the other half.

For the past 25 years, the physics prize has been shared among multiple winners.

Last year’s prize went to three British-born researchers who applied the mathematical discipline of topology to help understand the workings of exotic matter such as superconductors and superfluids. In 2014, a Japanese and a Canadian shared the physics prize for studies that proved that the elementary particles called neutrinos have mass.

© 2017 WWL-TV


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