“Einstein’s gravitational theory, which is said to be the greatest single achievement of theoretical physics, resulted in beautiful relations connecting gravitational phenomena with the geometry of space; this was an exciting idea.” -Richard Feynman
When we look out into the Universe, we normally gain information about it by gathering light of various wavelengths. However, there are other possibilities for astronomy, including by looking for the neutrinos emitted by astrophysical sources — first detected in the supernova explosion of 1987 — and in the gravitational waves emitted by accelerating masses.
These ripples in the fabric of space were theorized back in the early days of Einstein’s General Relativity, and experiments to detect them have been ongoing since the 1960s. However, in September of 2015, Advanced LIGO came online, and it was the first gravitational wave observatory that was expected to detect a real gravitational wave signal. The press conference on Thursday is where the collaboration will make their official announcement, and in the meantime, here’s an explainer of what gravitational waves are, what Advanced LIGO can teach us, and how.