Making Waves

It only took one hundred years to directly detect Albert Einstein’s prediction of gravitational waves, but physicists from LIGO were able to detect and record two black holes colliding together, approximately 1.3 billion light years from Earth…giving scientists a new tool for studying the Universe.


This simulation was created by the multi-university SXS (Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes) project. For more information, visit

Scientists found the waves using a complex technique, laser interferometry, at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), where they detected the ripples in the fabric of space-time, as two black holes merged.

Why is this event so important? Gravitational waves, unlike electromagnetic radiation, don’t interact with matter. Which means, they travel through the Universe freely without being distorted or altered, and that gives scientists a whole new way to look at our Universe…including the beginning of it.

There are different types of gravitational waves, and any object with mass that accelerates at a variable rate produces gravitational waves…that includes humans! Unfortunately, we are too small for instruments to measure our gravitational waves, but larger objects in space are a different story.

Types of Gravitational Waves

  • Continuous Gravitational Waves are produced by any single spinning object, massive in size, like a neutron star. The imperfections in its shape generate gravitational waves as it spins. If the spin rate remains constant, so does the gravitational waves…thus the name ‘continuous’.

  • Compact Binary Inspiral Gravitational Waves are produced by massive dense orbiting pairs like white dwarfs. There are three types of compact binary systems:

    • Binary Neutron Star (neutron star-neutron star) or BNS

    • Binary Black Hole (black hole-black hole) or BBH

    • Neutron Star-Black Hole Binary (NSBH)

  • Stochastic Gravitational Waves are produced by the many small waves coming from all over the Universe, and it is possible that some of this is from the Big Bang.

  • Burst Gravitational Waves are the undiscovered waves that scientists are still looking for to help understand more about our Universe, and keeping an open mind to what exactly they will look like is important to developing new ideas and finding new discoveries.

For a little more depth, visit LIGO or watch this video

Source: LIGO