The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS) honours leading astronomers and geophysicists

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On the 14th September 2015, almost exactly 100 years after Einstein predicted their existence, gravitational waves were observed for the first time. Now, almost a year after the announcement of the discovery on 11th February 2016, The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) team have been awarded the 2017 Group Achievement Award in astronomy from The Royal Astronomical Society (RAS).

The Royal Astronomical Society said: “The direct detection of gravitational waves by the LIGO detectors situated in Livingston and Hanford in the US is an epochal event in physics and astronomy. This extraordinary achievement is the culmination of many decades of work, including US-based instruments and teams working alongside scientists around the world.

“The direct detection of gravitational waves is of fundamental importance: It is confirmation of the last hallmark prediction of general relativity. These waves now provide a new probe of strong gravity fields, thus a new method to further our understanding of general relativity. The measured waveform has provided a direct detection of black hole binary systems, paving the way for the use of gravitational waves as probes of extremely relativistic astrophysical systems.”

“This achievement reveals a new way of ‘seeing’ the Universe. The detection itself was a tour-de-force example of making the un-measurable measurable: detecting a change in distance scales roughly one hundred millionth the size of an atom. This discovery represents a historic advance of scientific, technological and engineering achievement.

“For these reasons, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) team is awarded the Group Achievement Award.”

LIGO research is carried out by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), a group of more than 1000 scientists from universities from 15 countries around the globe – including principal investigator Dr Ed Daw, Dr Tega Edo, Mr Ross Kennedy and Ms Elena Massera from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy.

The direct detection of gravitational waves is just the tip of the ongoing research in this area. Sheffield is a founding member of GOTO, the ‘gravitational-wave optical transient observatory’. GOTO is a new wide-field telescope on La Palma that is dedicated to following up possible gravitational wave detections. It aims to detect the optical afterglow of the sources of gravitational waves, which would allow us to learn even more about their origins. Sheffield’s primary contribution, led by Vik Dhillon’s group, is to provide the observatory control system.

For more information on 2017 RAS award winners, visit: https://www.ras.org.uk/news-and-press/2943-ras-honours-leading-astronomers-and-geophysicists-2017.