​For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This discovery confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein's 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos. Faculty and student researchers from CSU Fullerton and Sonoma State were part of the team that made the observation—one of the most significant scientific discoveries in decades.

The two CSU campuses join Caltech, Stanford University and the University of Southern California as the only five universities in California involved in the global research effort.

The campuses are part of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC), currently made up of more than 1000 scientists from 83 institutions and 15 countries worldwide. The group’s goal is to make the first direct detection of gravitational waves, use them to explore the fundamental physics of gravity, and develop the emerging field of gravitational wave science as a tool of astronomical discovery.

CSU Fullerton physics professor Joshua Smith is leading CSUF’s team of faculty and student physicists and mathematicians involved in the program. Smith served as one of the primary editors of the discovery article, along with physicists from Caltech, MIT, Albert Einstein Institute in Germany, University of Paris and the University of Rome.

Smith and colleagues were involved in research efforts related to the discovery as part of CSUF’s Gravitational Wave Physics and Astronomy Center.

"Scientific advances in technology and astrophysics have now allowed us to observe two of Einstein's general theory of relativity's most elusive predictions: the existence of gravitational waves and black holes. From this point on, we will continue to observe the universe in this completely new and exciting way," Smith said.

Sonoma State physics and astronomy professor Lynn Cominsky has been involved with the LIGO experiment since 2007.

Under her direction, members of SSU's Education and Public Outreach group have produced a short Educator's Guide for classroom use to explain the exciting discovery that is linked from the LIGO main website.

"I am thrilled to be a small part of the LIGO outreach effort. Studying black holes has been most of my life's work, and the discovery of gravitational waves using LIGO detectors will open an entirely new branch of astronomy," said Cominsky.

It's been a busy year so far for Cominsky, who was honored with the CSU’s Wang Family Excellence Award and two other astronomy education awards earlier this year.

Humboldt State also played a role in the discovery. Corey Gray, a double alumnus of HSU, works at Caltech and is lead operator at the Hanford, Washington, observatory lab of LIGO, short for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. This observatory, along with one just like it in Livingston, Louisiana, allowed scientists to record the sound of two black holes colliding roughly 1.3 billion years ago.