01:05 GMT18 February 2020
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    Social networks are awash with rumors that an experiment to detect the existence of gravitational waves, predicted by Einstein's general theory of relativity, has borne fruit.

    An experiment to detect gravitational waves may have succeeded, according to rumors circulating on social networks on Tuesday. 

    ​​The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) at the California Institute of Technology was completed in 1999, and first began searching, unsuccessfully, for gravitational waves in 2002. 

    In 2010 the observatory stopped for a five-year reconstruction to make its detectors more sensitive. The redesign gave them a ten-fold increase in sensitivity, making LIGO able to listen for gravitational waves 10 times farther away and giving it access to 1000 times more volume of space.

    On September 18 2015 the observatory undertook the first official, three month 'observing run' of its advanced detectors. Immediately, before any fine-tuning, the detectors could listen for gravitational waves from as far away as 225 million light years, already three times more sensitive than the initial LIGO was by the end of its observational lifetime in 2010. 

    Gravitational waves are vibrations of space–time generated by the acceleration of all forms of mass and energy. Their existence is one of the key predictions of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, published in 1916. 

    ​"Since gravitational waves allow us to study the universe with a new form of energy that couples to everything, gravitational-wave detectors may also lead to totally unexpected discoveries – as did the telescope and the microscope in their times," explains Craig Hogan, Professor of Astronomy and Physics at the University of Chicago.

    ​"Moreover, gravitational waves provide a detailed record of events that took place in the first second or so of the universe, which should allow us to constrain models such as cosmic inflation and other extreme and uncharted physics of the early universe."

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    Tags:
    relativity, waves, gravity, Caltech, Albert Einstein, California
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