The Search for Gravitational Waves (Gallery)

gravitational waves
This illustration shows the gravitational waves thought to be produced by two orbiting white dwarf stars in a binary system called J0651, according to an August 2012 study. (Image credit: NASA)

B-Mode Pattern Observed with the BICEP2 Telescope

BICEP2 Collaboration

Gravitational waves from inflation generate a faint but distinctive twisting pattern in the polarization of the cosmic microwave background, known as a "curl" or B-mode pattern. For the density fluctuations that generate most of the polarization of the CMB, this part of the primordial pattern is exactly zero. Shown here is the actual B-mode pattern observed with the BICEP2 telescope, which is consistent with the pattern predicted for primordial gravitational waves. The line segments show the polarization strength and orientation at different spots on the sky. The red and blue shading shows the degree of clockwise and anti-clockwise twisting of this B-mode pattern.

B-Mode Polarization Pattern Observed by BICEP2

BICEP2 Collaboration

The tiny temperature fluctuations of the cosmic microwave background (shown here as color) trace primordial density fluctuations in the early universe that seeded the later growth of galaxies. These fluctuations produce a pattern of polarization in the CMB that has no twisting to it. Gravitational waves from inflation are expected to produce much a fainter pattern that includes twisting ("B-mode") polarization, consistent with the pattern observed by BICEP2, which is shown here as black lines. The line segments show the polarization strength and orientation at different spots on the sky.

BICEP 2 Sunset

Steffen Richter (Harvard University)

The sun sets behind BICEP2 (in the foreground) and the South Pole Telescope (in the background).

How Gravitational Waves Work (Infographic)

By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist

Moving masses generate waves of gravitational radiation that stretch and squeeze space-time. See how gravitational waves work in this infographic.

BICEP2 Electronics Testing

Steffen Richter (Harvard University)

Graduate student Justus Brevik tests the BICEP2 readout electronics.

BICEP2 Focal Plane

Anthony Turner (JPL)

The BICEP2 telescope’s focal plane consists of 512 superconducting microwave detectors, developed and produced at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Gravity Waves


3D visualization of gravitational waves produced by two orbiting black holes.

Lack of Gravity Waves Puts Limits on Exotic Cosmology Theories

K. Thorne (Caltech) and T. Carnahan (NASA GSFC)

Artist's impression of gravitational waves from two orbiting black holes.

Cosmic Superstrings Might Sing in Gravity Waves

Matt DePies/UW.

Cosmic superstring loops wiggle and oscillate, producing gravitational waves, then slowly shrink as they lose energy until they disappear.

LISA Gravity Wave Hunting Mission


The LISA mission was planned to be the first space-based mission to attempt the detection of gravitational waves. These are ripples in spacetime that are emitted by exotic objects such as black holes.

Gravitational Waves


Cataclysmic events, such as this artist's rendition of a binary-star merger, are believed to create gravitational waves that cause ripples in space-time.

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Clara Moskowitz
Assistant Managing Editor

Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.