What are Gravitational Waves?

Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of space and time produced by violent events in the distant universe, such as the collision of two black holes or shockwaves from the cores of supernova explosions. Gravitational waves are emitted by accelerating masses much as electromagnetic waves are produced by accelerating charges. These ripples in the space-time fabric travel toward Earth, bringing with them information about their cataclysmic origins, as well as invaluable clues as to the nature of gravity. Detection of gravitational waves may revolutionize our understanding of black holes, neutron stars and the processes that formed the universe.

The Study of Gravitational Waves

Although not yet detected directly, the influence of gravitational waves on binary pulsars (two neutron stars orbiting each other) has been measured accurately, and was found to be in good agreement with original predictions. Scientists therefore have great confidence that gravitational waves do exist. Joseph Taylor and Russel Hulse were awarded the 1993 Nobel Prize in Physics for their studies in this field.