Dr Chris North, Cardiff University
"The Dawn of Gravitational Wave Astronomy"
In 2015 the twin LIGO detectors picked up the first definitive signature of gravitational waves - ripples in the fabric of space predicted a century previously by Albert Einstein. In the subsequent years, LIGO and its European counterpart, Virgo, have confirmed the detection of around a dozen such signals. Each originates from the merger of some of nature's most extreme objects - black holes and neutron stars. The measured effect on Earth, however, is absolutely tiny, and requires a precision that seems to be beyond our imaginations - and which led Einstein to think his prediction would never be tested. Since 2015, the era of gravitational wave astronomy has truly begun, and teams from all over the world are poring over the data from some of the most sophisticated experiments on Earth. In this talk, three years to the day since we were able to announce that first discovery to the world, I'll describe what gravitational waves are, how we detect them, and what we're learning from the discoveries to date. Find out what the future holds for astronomy's youngest observational field.