The waves are like "a storm in the fabric of space-time that is produced when two black holes collide", Thorne said.
The waves were predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago but Einstein was certain they could never be measured. He, Thorne and Barish "ensured that four decades of effort led to gravitational waves finally being observed", the Nobel announcement said.
Here's a look at what goes into detecting gravitational waves.
Three American physicists working on gravitational waves on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) project has been awarded Nobel Prize in Physics. The discovery revolutionized the field of astronomy, giving scientists a new way to study the mysterious, dark objects that lurk in the distant Universe. The vibrations from the gravitational wave that was spotted back in February were smaller than the width of an atom.
Weiss in the 1970s designed a laser-based device that would detect gravitational waves.
Weiss, he says, was the one who figured out what kind of sensitivity such a detector would need to be able to detect gravitational waves. "The people responsible for the Nobel prize today, they were the visionaries who basically dreamt about making this possible and worked very hard to get this collaboration to this particular point".
Prof Thorne made crucial predictions about how to recognise a gravitational wave signal. At that time, the project was at risk of being cancelled. Barish's involvement began in the early 1990s, first as an investigator and then, in 1997, as its director during pivotal times for the project. It was the first direct evidence of merging black holes, and the first unambiguous detection of gravitational waves.
"In the press conference telephone interview, Rainer Weiss said he felt "pretty wonderful" at the news, and he praised the dedicated works many scientists made for decades". LIGO is composed of two facilities; one in Washington state and the other in Louisiana. LIGO's two observatories each have two arms 2.48 miles (4 kilometers) long and arranged in an "L" shape. A laser beam is split and sent down a pair of perpendicular tubes, each precisely the same length.
Other types of gravitational detectors are being built including one in India.
LIGO is now shut down, and the detectors are being upgraded to make them more sensitive. And when massive but compact objects like black holes or neutron stars collide, their enormous gravity causes space-time to stretch or compress. According to his theory, as gargantuan bodies such as black holes accelerate because of gravity, they will emit vast amounts of energy and generate gravitational waves that propagate through the universe, sometimes passing through Earth.
"Gravitational waves from black holes colliding is awesome science, but the most incredible achievement was just getting these instruments built, and that's what Rai, Kip and Barry did".