Exaggerated Effects of Gravitational Waves on Earth

Animation created by R. Hurt, Caltech/MIT/LIGO Lab


Gravitational waves stretch and squeeze the fabric of space and time on very minuscule scales; visually exaggerating these effects reveals how Earth is squeezed and stretched. Gravitational waves are generated when massive objects, such as pairs of black holes, accelerate through space and time. On September 14, 2015, LIGO became the first instrument on Earth to detect these waves, in this instance originating from the collision of two black holes more than a billion light-years away. LIGO detectors were able to measure the stretching and squeezing of space -- caused by the passage of these gravitational waves -- with a precision equivalent to 1/1000th the diameter of a proton. That's like measuring the distance to the nearest star down to a precision level of just a fraction of the thickness of a human hair.