“Ladies and gentlemen, we have detected gravitational waves. We did it,” David Reitze, Executive Director of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, announced Feb. 11.
Physicists involved with LIGO, short for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, went on to describe how they had detected a “chirp” resulting from the collision of two black holes 1.3 billion years ago, which represented the first direct evidence of gravitational waves and confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
The theory predicted that two massive objects interacting would bend the fabric of spacetime and send gravitational waves rippling through the universe. The two LIGO detectors used in the discovery, located in Louisiana and Washington, are operated by MIT and Caltech researchers, among many others.
The idea for LIGO was born at MIT during the late 1960s, so this discovery was more than fifty years in the making. In an email to the MIT community, President L. Rafael Reif celebrated the advancement of pure science: “Without basic science, our best guess never gets any better, and ‘innovation’ is tinkering around the edges.”