Glasgow Scientists Help Find Space Waves

11 February 2016, 16:52 | Updated: 11 February 2016, 16:53

Scientists from Scottish universities played a key role in the worldwide effort to prove that Albert Einstein's prediction of the existence of gravitational waves was correct.

The academics hailed the development as a major leap forward for astronomy.

The University of Glasgow said its researchers have been working for decades to support the effort to detect the waves.

Experts from their Institute for Gravitational Research led on the development, construction and installation of sensitive "mirror suspensions'' at the heart of the Ligo detectors which were central to the first detection.

That technology was developed in partnership with another Glasgow-based university, the University of Strathclyde, as well as the universities of Birmingham and the STFC Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Oxfordshire.

Professor Sheila Rowan, director of the Institute for Gravitational Research, said: "This is a monumental leap forward for physics and astrophysics - taking Einstein's predictions and turning them into an entirely new way to sense some of the most fascinating objects in our universe.

"In the past, we've relied on the information we collected from the electromagnetic spectrum to help learn more about the cosmos, from the other planets in our solar system to star systems millions of light years away.

"Now, gravitational wave astronomy will give us the ability to make many exciting new discoveries.

"This first detection, in addition to confirming Einstein's prediction, also gives us the first direct evidence of the existence of black holes and the first observation of black holes merging, which is a fantastic result.''

The University of Strathclyde said the development "marks the dawn of a new era in astronomy''.

Dr Nicholas Lockerbie, reader in physics at the university, said: "I never expected to see an event of this kind in my lifetime.

"Gravity has now spoken to us, across vast tracts of the universe. For the first time in mankind's history, we have been able to hear it - and understand what it said.

"This event is evidence of a stunning black-hole-black-hole merger, lasting less than one second.

"However, its detection is the result of decades of international, scientific and technical collaboration, culminating in the matchless gravitational wave sensitivity of the advanced Ligo detectors in the US.''

Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon welcomed the announcement.

She said: "This is a world-leading discovery that again puts Scotland at the forefront of science.

"The University of Glasgow's decades-long commitment to gravitational wave research is admirable and this first detection is an impressive testament to the dedication, innovation and collaborative spirit of the scientists who work there.

"I'm pleased and proud that scientists from Scottish universities played a key role in the worldwide effort to prove that Einstein's prediction of the existence of gravitational waves was correct.''