‘We Found a Massive Black Hole Collision That Has Never Been Seen Before’

Since 1983 I have been involved in the search for gravitational waves. These waves were a prediction of Albert Einstein in 1916, although he quickly noted that they would be so small and weak that it would be impossible to observe them. It took us a century to detect them directly.

Up until our first detection in 2015 all of us gravitational wave researchers were considered as nice enough, but probably a bit crazy to go after this apparently impossible task. The physics world has changed a lot in the last five years, and in 2019 we made an incredible discovery.

A simple way to understand our work with gravitational waves is this: with gravity, if you accelerate a mass it will produce gravitational waves. Gravitational waves actually cause space to be stretched and contracted, and we try to measure that stretching of space with L shaped devices, called laser interferometers.

Ever since Galileo turned a telescope to the heavens and shocked the world by seeing moons orbiting Jupiter, new telescopes have always produced surprising discoveries. The same is true with gravitational waves. And while electromagnetic waves — which include radio, optical and gamma rays—let us see the universe, gravitational waves are like a new sense; we hear the universe. So far we are hearing a lot of black holes.

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