Perhaps the most exciting discovery in fundamental physics for decades was the detection of gravitational waves at the US-based Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Advanced LIGO). The discovery, announced in February 2016, was followed by the announcement of a second detection only a few months later. Then, in June 2017, a third detection of gravitational waves was announced, demonstrating that a new window in astronomy has been firmly opened.

These discoveries have opened up new possibilities in exploring the universe through its most enigmatic objects: black holes, while at the same time testing our current understanding of the physical laws underpinning the universe.

The first detection of gravitational waves was the result of an international effort spanning fifty years in which Australian researchers played an important

part, and the ARC provided significant support.

This support included substantial ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities scheme funding to The Australian National University and The University of Adelaide for Australian researchers to travel to Advanced LIGO to install and operate instruments, as well as ARC Linkage Projects and Discovery Projects scheme funding to develop specific technologies.

With the existence of gravitational waves proven, a new ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav), led by Professor Matthew Bailes at Swinburne University of Technology, will now capitalise on these historic first detections to understand the extreme physics of black holes and warped spacetime.

The first detection of gravitational waves in late 2015 confirmed a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, exactly 100 years after it was published.

Image: Inspecting LIGO’s optics for contaminants prior to sealing up the chamber and pumping the vacuum system down, by illuminating its surface with light at a glancing angle.
Image courtesy: Matt Heintze/Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab