World / Newsmakers

ABCs of gravitational waves

( Updated: 2016-02-14 15:56

Scientists said on Thursday they have for the first time detected gravitational waves, ripples in space and time hypothesized by physicist Albert Einstein a century ago, in a landmark discovery that opens a new window for studying the cosmos.

Discovering gravitational waves would be a huge deal for physics, cosmology, and our understanding of the universe at large. But if you're not a scientist studying one of the aforementioned fields, it's possible you've never heard of these mysterious ripples. So what are gravitational waves and why is the discovery so significant?

ABCs of gravitational waves

Visualization - Gravitational waves generated by a binary system. [Photo/NASA]

What are gravitational waves?

Gravitational waves are disturbances in space-time, the very fabric of the universe, that travel at the speed of light. The waves are emitted by any mass that is changing speed or direction. The simplest example is a binary system, where a pair of stars or compact objects (like black holes) orbit their common center of mass.

We can think of gravitational effects as curvatures in space-time. Earth's gravity is constant and produces a static curve in space-time. A gravitational wave is a curvature that moves through space-time much like a water wave moves across the surface of a lake. It is generated only when masses are speeding up, slowing down or changing direction.

Previous Page 1 2 3 4 Next Page

Trudeau visits Sina Weibo
May gets little gasp as EU extends deadline for sufficient progress in Brexit talks
Ethiopian FM urges strengthened Ethiopia-China ties
Yemen's ex-president Saleh, relatives killed by Houthis
Most Popular
Hot Topics