Space boffins win $3m prize for discovering gravitational waves

Special Breakthrough Prize for all scientists and engineers working on LIGO

The team of scientists involved in the successful detection of gravitational waves has been awarded the Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics – along with $3m.

The Breakthrough Prizes, awarded for scientific achievements, are funded by Russian billionaire and physicist Yuri Milner, along with tech entrepreneurs including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, Google co-founder Sergey Brin, and Jack Ma, founder and chairman of the Alibaba Group.

There are Breakthrough Prizes for life sciences, fundamental physics, and mathematics. The Special Breakthrough Prize can be awarded at any time for cases of “extraordinary scientific achievement.”

The prize comes two months after the researchers from California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology working on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) made the monumental discovery. The gravitational waves came from two gigantic black holes which collided more than a billion light years away. This generated huge ripples in space-time, leaving behind gravitational waves large enough to detect.

Objects with bigger masses leave bigger ripples in space-time when they move. Due to the large distances the gravitational waves have to travel to get to Earth, ripples fade to a tiny signal and often go undetected.

The founders of LIGO, Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne, and Ronald Drever, will share $1m. The rest will be shared equally amongst more than 1,000 scientists and engineers who contributed to the findings, which leaves each person around $2,000.

Speaking to The Guardian, Thorne said: “Gravitational waves are a whole new way to explore the universe. They are the ideal tool for probing phenomena in which gravity is ultra strong, and space and time are strongly warped, such as colliding black holes and the universe’s big bang birth.”

The existence of gravitational waves provides further proof of Einstein’s century-old Theory of General Relativity, which states that space-time is curved. ®


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