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Physicists Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish received the 2017 Nobel prize in physics for their work detecting ripples in space-time predicted by Einstein over 100 years ago.

Why it matters: Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts that massive objects — like black holes — distort space-time. We feel that as gravity. Because space-time can't be directly seen or measured, scientists instead study it indirectly, for example by searching for gravitational waves that Einstein predicted would be emitted when two massive objects collide. So far, observations by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory have confirmed Einstein's theory.

Since 2015, LIGO detectors — one in Washington and another in Louisiana — have observed gravitational waves from black hole collisions four times, most recently in August. These gravitational waves contain enough energy to bend space-time itself in measurable ways and are a window into understanding the fundamental nature of gravity.

"[G]ravitational waves are direct testimony to disruptions in spacetime itself. This is something completely new and different, opening up unseen worlds. A wealth of discoveries awaits those who succeed in capturing the waves and interpreting their message." -- The Nobel committee

How it works: Each observatory is essentially a 2.5-mile-long, L-shaped antenna with beams of laser light bouncing back and forth between mirrors at either end. When a gravitational wave passes through Earth, the distance between those mirrors should change ever so slightly as space-time contracts and expands, if Einstein's general theory of relativity holds.

It takes hugely energetic events — like the collision of black holes or neutron stars — to generate a measurable perturbation. Even then, the waves, which travel billions of light years before they pass Earth, move the mirrors just a fraction of the diameter of a proton. (LIGO can detect a change as small as 1/10,000 the width of a proton.)

Who they are: Weiss is an emeritus professor of physics at MIT (where he flunked out as an undergraduate) who — along with Ronald Drever, who died earlier this year — led the design and construction of the LIGO detectors. Barish, a professor emertius at Caltech, was LIGO's director and managed the team as well as making technical contributions. Thorne is a professor of theoretical physics at Caltech who figured out what exactly the detectors should be looking for.

Some history: Joseph Taylor Jr. and Russell Hulse received the 1993 Nobel prize in physics for their discovery of a pulsar-neutron star pair capable of producing gravitational waves. In the 1960s, Weiss came up with the idea for detecting these waves, which was realized as LIGO when Weiss and Drever began working together in the mid-1980s. More than 1,000 people around the world now work on the international collaboration.

Go deeper

Virginia lawmakers vote to legalize marijuana in 2024

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam. Photo: Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Lawmakers in Virginia on Saturday approved compromise legislation that would legalize marijuana in 2024, putting the state a step closer to becoming the first in the South to end prohibition on the drug, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports.

Why it matters: The legislation will make Virginia the 16th state to legalize marijuana, per Politico. It would add to a slate of laws that have seen Virginia move in a more progressive direction during the tenure of Gov. Ralph Northam.

Scammers seize on COVID confusion

Data: FTC; Chart: Sara Wise/Axios

Scamming has skyrocketed in the past year, and much of the increase is attributed to COVID-related scams, more recently around vaccines.

Why it matters: The pandemic has created a prime opportunity for scammers to target people who are already confused about the chaotic rollouts of things like stimulus payments, loans, contact tracing and vaccines. Data shows that older people who aren't digitally literate are the most vulnerable.

14 hours ago - Health

FDA authorizes Johnson & Johnson's one-shot COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

Photo: Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

The Food and Drug Administration on Saturday issued an emergency use authorization for Johnson & Johnson's one-shot coronavirus vaccine.

Why it matters: The authorization of a third coronavirus vaccine in the U.S. will help speed up the vaccine rollout across the country, especially since the J&J shot only requires one dose as opposed to Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech's two-shot vaccines.