Einstein's theory of general relativity predicts moving objects create the ripples, called gravitational waves, and astronomers have used a pair of white dwarf stars so close together they make a complete orbit in less than 13 minutes to confirm it, a release from the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics reported Tuesday.
Gravitational waves are notoriously difficult to observe and have been detected only indirectly by radio astronomy, but the white dwarf pair has allowed astronomers to detect the same effect at optical wavelengths, the release said.
"Every six minutes the stars in [the system] J0651 eclipse each other as seen from Earth, which makes for an unparalleled and accurate clock some 3,000 light-years away," study lead author J.J. Hermes at the University of Texas at Austin said.
Gravitational waves created by the stars should carry away energy, causing them to inch closer together and orbit each other faster and faster, and the researchers said they were able to detect this effect in J0651.
"Compared to April 2011, when we discovered this object, the eclipses now happen six seconds sooner than expected," team member Mukremin Kilic of the University of Oklahoma said.
"This result marks one of the cleanest and strongest detections of the effect of gravitational waves," researcher Warren Brown of the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory said.
"This is a general relativistic effect you could measure with a wrist watch."