Glossary term: Gravitational waves

Description: Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts the existence of gravitational waves: ripples in space and time that travel at the speed of light. One way of producing such waves is for two objects to orbit each other. Gravitational waves were first observed indirectly, in the way that the double star PSR B1913+16 orbits faster over time as it loses energy by radiating away gravitational waves. The first detection was made in September 2015 by the two gravitational wave detectors of the LIGO observatory. Gravitational waves can carry information about astronomical objects that is not accessible by any other means, notably about orbiting and merging black holes or neutron stars.

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