Gravitational Waves

BREAKTHROUGH: Gravitational Waves Detected, Confirming Einstein’s Theory

credit: NASA

Physicists have announced the discovery of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space-time.

First anticipated by Albert Einstein over a century ago, it’s only until now that it’s confirmed.

Gravity waves can be detected through the stretching and contracting of space and time.

This announcement comes after 50 years of trial and error, and 25 years perfecting a set of instruments so sensitive they could identify distortion in space-time a thousandth the diameter of one atomic nucleus across a 4km strip of laser beam and mirror.

Using the worlds most sophisticated detector (Ligo detector),  Scientists detected the collision of two black holes and listened to a chirp for 20 thousandths of a second as the two black holes; one 35 times the mass of the sun, the other slightly smaller, circled around each other.  This opens up an entirely new field of observational astronomy, which usually makes use of telescopes that observe different types of light waves.  Gravitational waves are a whole new thing, and they give us a new point of view on the universe, allowing us to view things we couldn’t see otherwise. “Everything else in astronomy is like the eye, finally, astronomy grew ears.  We never had ears before.” Said Szabolcs Marka, a Columbia University professor and one of the LIGO scientists.

Prof Neil Turok, director the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics at Waterloo in Canada, and a former research colleague of Prof Stephen Hawking, calls the discovery “the real deal, one of those breakthrough moments in science”.

“Just think of radio waves, when radio waves were discovered we learned to communicate with them. Mobile communication is entirely reliant on radio waves.  For astronomy, radio observations have probably told us more than anything else about the structure of the universe.  Now that we have gravitational waves, we’re going to have a whole new picture of the universe, of the stuff that doesn’t emit light – dark matter, black holes,” he said.

“For me the most exciting thing is we will literally be able to see the big bang.  Using electromagnetic waves we cannot see further back than 400,000 years after the big bang.  The early universe was opaque to light. It is not opaque to gravitational waves. It is completely transparent.

“So literally, by gathering gravitational waves we will be able to see exactly what happened at the initial singularity.  The most weird and wonderful prediction of Einstein’s theory was that everything came out of a single event: the big bang singularity.  And we will be able to see what happened.”

“The colliding black holes that produced these gravitational waves created a violent storm in the fabric of space and time, a storm in which time speeded up and slowed down, and speeded up again, a storm in which the shape of space was bent in this way and that way,” he said.

Their calculations told them how stars perish: the two objects had begun by circling each other 30 times a second. By the end of the 20 millisecond snatch of data, the two had accelerated to 250 times a second before the final collision and a dark, violent merger.

“This is transformational,” said Prof Alberto Vecchio, of the University of Birmingham, and one of the researchers at Ligo. “We have observed the universe through light so far.  But we can only see part of what happens in the universe.  Gravitational waves carry completely different information about phenomena in the universe.  So we have opened a new way of listening to a broadcasting channel which will allow us to discover phenomena we have never seen before,” he said.

“This observation is truly incredible science and marks three milestones for physics: the direct detection of gravitational waves, the first detection of a binary black hole, and the most convincing evidence to date that nature’s black holes are the objects predicted by Einstein’s theory.”

Here’s the audio of the chirp! –

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