Physicist: Gravitational waves are a bit mysterious

6:17 min

Scientists who made the first observation of gravitational waves in September 2015 waited for months to go public with the news.

"It's a lot of work to identify possible sources, also external disturbances," Anders Irbäck, a theoretical physics professor and new member of the Nobel Committee explained to Radio Sweden. This is why he believes the scientists took so long to announce their findings.

The waves in question, resulting from two black holes that collided 1.3 billion years ago, were measured at two facilities 3,000 km apart in Louisiana and Washington state, USA.

Anders Irbäck notes that the fact that the waves were measured at two laser interferometer facilities, together known as LIGO laboratory, was crucial to the scientists ability to confirm what it was that the instruments had picked up.

"Detecting them is like measuring the distance to a star ten lightyears away with a precision equivalent to the diameter of a strand of hair," reads the press release from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, which credits Professor Rainer Weiss of The Massachusetts Institute of Technology for making pioneering contributions to build the extremely precise instruments that rely on lasers and mirrors.

Despite the instruments' sensitivity, they had to be designed in such a way that would insulate them as much as possible from potentially distracting vibrations that might be caused by a passing truck on a distant road or even falling leaves.

Professor Kip S. Thorne of Caltech provided theory and analysis, and Professor Barry C. Barish, also of Caltech, led the project to completion, but more than a thousand participants have bee involved with the research.