2017 Nobel Prize in Physics: Gravitational Waves!

Today, the Nobel Committee announced the 2017 Nobel Prize for the detection of Gravitational Waves.  The recipients of the prize are Drs. Ranier Weiss, Barry Barish, and Kip Thorne.  This is an incredible discovery, predicted 100 years ago by Einstein's theory of General Relativity, and an incredible feat of measurement. 

As of this writing, four events have been detected.  The first was seen on September 14, 2015 and announced February 11, 2016.  The first three were seen by both LIGO detectors, one in Hanford, Washington and one in  Livingston, Louisiana.  The fourth, and most recent, was also seen by the Virgo detector in Cascina, Italy.  

This is exciting for two reasons.  First, it validates the theory of General Relativity, which describes the basic structure of gravity in the universe.  This is important for our understanding of the core of our existence, but also for more down-to-earth applications like the accuracy of the GPS signal we use to get to the beach. Second, it's an entirely new tool for measuring things that happen in the universe.  For the entirety of human existence, we have stared at the stars.  And (nearly) all the information we get comes from the photons they give up.  Gravitational waves give us a new window on things that were otherwise invisible, like black holes smashing together.

An excellent short video on what this means was put together by PhD Comics

The science journalist Veritasium put together this video describing just how incredible this measurement really is.