Glossary term: Gravitational Waves

Description: Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts the existence of gravitational waves: Ripples in space and time that travel at the speed of light. One way of producing such waves is for two objects to orbit each other. Gravitational waves were first inferred from observations of the double star PSR B1913+16 (a neutron star and a pulsar orbiting around a common center of mass). The orbital period has decreased as it loses energy by radiating away gravitational waves.

The first detection of gravitational waves was made in September 2015 by the two gravitational wave detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). Gravitational waves can carry information about astronomical objects that is not accessible by any other means, notably about orbiting and merging black holes or neutron stars.

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