What is the difference between gravitons and gravitational waves? So as I understand, gravitational waves are predicted by and part of the theory of general relativity, whereas gravitons are predicted by the standard model.

We have indirect evidence for gravitational waves? So it seems that they probably exist--but what about gravitons? How are gravitons related to gravitational waves? Are gravitons and gravitational waves just two different ways of talking about the same thing?

  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Although we do not yet have a theory of gravitons, this seems to be the same question as What is the relation between electromagnetic wave and photon? $\endgroup$
    – ACuriousMind
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 20:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Gravitons aren't "predicted" by the standard model any more than photons or electrons are. The standard model is merely a quantum field theory fit to observed data. Since gravitons have not been observed, yet, and it's not even clear that anything resembling a graviton even exists, the folks who curate the standard model had not had any reason to fit them into the existing framework. We have indirect evidence for gravitational waves and we are trying to detect them directly at the moment, but I am not aware that anybody has made any workable suggestion on how one could detect gravitons. $\endgroup$
    – CuriousOne
    Commented Oct 28, 2015 at 20:44

1 Answer 1


In physics, gravitational waves are ripples in the curvature of space-time which propagate as waves, travelling outward from the source. Predicted in 19161 by Albert Einstein to exist on the basis of his theory of general relativity,3 gravitational waves theoretically transport energy as gravitational radiation. Sources of detectable gravitational waves could possibly include binary star systems composed of white dwarfs, neutron stars, or black holes. The existence of gravitational waves is a possible consequence of the Lorentz invariance of general relativity since it brings the concept of a limiting speed of propagation of the physical interactions with it.

Gravitational* waves have not been directly observed, experiments are designed trying to detect them. Since they are predicted from the General Relativity theory there is trust that they exist and the difficulty comes from the very weak gravitational interaction. General Relativity is a classical theory.

As pointed out in the comments to the question, electrodynamics as formulated with Maxwell's equations is also a classical theory, and describes electromagnetic waves, light being one part of the spectrum.

The underlying framework of nature though is quantum mechanical. The quantization of electrodynamics QED is a successful theory which has the photons as the carrier of the electromagnetic interactions and the building stones of the classical electromagnetic wave. It can be shown that the classical wave emerges from innumerable photons with energy $=h\nu,$ $\nu$ the frequency of the classical wave.

Gravitons are to gravitational waves the theoretical analogue of photons for electromagnetic waves. They are the proposed carriers of the gravitational interactions at the quantum level, and are expected to appear naturally in a future theory of quantized gravity. At the moment quantization of gravity can be accommodated in string theories, which are at the frontier of research for particle physics. The standard model involves only the three other forces , not the gravitational. A future standard model should have both the present standard model and quantization of gravity, a Theory Of Everything (TOE).

So photons are the building blocks of light, and gravitons are (hopefully) the building blocks of gravitational waves.

*LIGO has just (Feb 11,2016) announced the observation of gravitational waves https://dcc.ligo.org/public/0122/P150914/014/LIGO-P150914%3ADetection_of_GW150914.pdf

  • $\begingroup$ Anna V Would your sentence "The existence of gravitational waves is a possible consequence of the Lorentz invariance of general relativity since it brings the concept of a limiting speed of propagation of the physical interactions with it." would explain why GR is locally Lorentzian, please read my comment there? $\endgroup$
    – JanG
    Commented Nov 12, 2023 at 19:24
  • $\begingroup$ it might be so, but my mathematical knowledge is not good enough to confirm it. $\endgroup$
    – anna v
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 5:06
  • $\begingroup$ I think you are right. I came across similar view on this forum. In our labors (in earth gravitation field) we use the fact that there exists an universal absolute maximal velocity of interactions in experiments with electromagnetic and gravitation waves. $\endgroup$
    – JanG
    Commented Nov 13, 2023 at 7:16

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.