In 2015, LIGO detected gravitational waves for the first time, confirming one of the last pieces of the puzzle of general relativity. These ripples in the fabric of spacetime were observed by the tiny wobbles they created in laser beams, but a newly launched telescope in Spain is aiming to see them more directly by scouring the skies for the optical signals associated with gravitational waves.

Gravitational waves were first predicted as part of Einstein's theory of general relativity over 100 years ago. If gravity is a result of the curvature of spacetime, as Einstein proposed, then the collision of huge bodies like stars or black holes would create ripples across the universe.

Direct evidence of these waves evaded scientists until September 2015, when LIGO detected them through laser interferometry, where tiny disturbances are measured through laser beams over huge distances. Since then, the phenomenon has been picked up twice more through the same method.

The inauguration of GOTO, at Warwick University's observatory facility on the island of La Palma in Spain(Credit: Antonio González / IAC)

But seeing their effects isn't the same as seeing gravitational waves themselves, so to study them in more detail, the Gravitational-wave Optical Transient (GOTO) telescope has been fired up at the University of Warwick's observatory on the island of La Palma in Spain. The autonomous telescope will be alerted to waves by facilities like LIGO or ESA's LISA satellite, and in response will train its eye on the sky in that area, seeking out potential optical signatures related to the phenomenon.

If it's able to capture these signatures, other telescopes and satellites could quickly be trained on that part of the sky to study the possible sources. These findings could help astronomers learn more about how gravitational waves are created and maybe even help to unravel the mystery that is gravity itself.

View gallery - 2 images