1.1 Birth of gravitational astronomy

Gravity is the dominant interaction in most astronomical systems. The big surprise of the last three decades of the 20th century was that relativistic gravitation is relevant in so many of these systems. Strong gravitational fields are Nature’s most efficient converters of mass into energy. Examples where strong-field relativistic gravity is important include the following:

Most of these systems are either dynamical or were formed in catastrophic events; many are or were, therefore, strong sources of gravitational radiation. As the 21st century opens, we are on the threshold of using this radiation to gain a new perspective on the observable universe.

The theory of gravitational radiation already makes an important contribution to the understanding of a number of astronomical systems, such as neutron star binaries, cataclysmic variables, young neutron stars, low-mass X-ray binaries, and even the anisotropy of the microwave background radiation. As the understanding of relativistic phenomena improves, it can be expected that gravitational radiation will play a crucial role as a theoretical tool in modeling relativistic astrophysical systems.

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