WE DETECTED GRAVITATIONAL WAVES…. A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… two black holes collided in a fateful swirling waltz. Just like when you toss a rock into a pond and it creates ripples on the surface of the water, this collision sent ripples through the fabric of space time. And we finally detected one of these ripples or as researchers call them, gravitational waves.
We’ve been looking for these kinds of waves for a long time. Albert Einstein first proposed their existence in his theory of relativity, OVER A HUNDRED YEARS AGO. So we’ve been searching for them ever since. And just how the ripples in the pond get smaller as they move further from the origin point, the ripples in spacetime get smaller too. That’s why they are so hard to detect. Until now!
Yesterday, (LIGO) or the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory announced that they found these ripples by detecting, or hearing, one of them.
The signal was seen on September 14th last year, but the cataclysmic event that caused it happened nearly 1.3 billion years ago when two black holes collided. While two black holes colliding has been theorized, it hasn’t been observed before.
The theory goes that two black holes will circle each other and lose energy that’s released as gravitational waves. Over time, they will get closer and closer over the course of a few billion years then finally collide in a fraction of a second. This releases a large amount of mass as energy in the form of gravitational waves. In this case, the black holes were about 30 times the mass of the Sun and were moving at half the speed of light in that last fraction of a second.
This huge impact sent a shock wave of gravitational waves, or ripples in spacetime, through the universe at the speed of light.
The storm lasted just 20 milliseconds, but during that span it pumped out more power than 50 times all the stars in the universe,
said Kip Thorne ~ LIGO co-founder.
But as massive as that collision was, the reverberations that reached us were tiny. Like “one one thousandth the diameter of a proton,” according David Reitze, the executive director of LIGO.
LIGO was able to detect such a tiny wiggle by using two labs — one in Livingston, Louisiana, and one in Hanford, Washington. The labs used massive and precise lasers. Like 2.5-mile long lasers beams that can read 10,000 times smaller than a proton. These lasers were fired into two L shaped pipes that bounced light around a series of mirrors. A strain in space-time would change the timing of when the lasers reach their destination. And that’s just what happened on that fateful day.
The same wiggle showed up on the detectors in the two labs just 7 milliseconds apart. And more incredible, these wiggles matched up to what supercomputer models of gravitational waves had already predicted. Which were based off of calculations from Einstein’s theory of relativity.
So it’s the real deal. We know have solid evidence of gravitational waves, and evidence of binary black holes! And this discovery proves Einstein’s theory. FINALLY.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have detected gravitational waves. We did it,
said Reitze at the press conference announcing the discovery.
The things we’ve surmised and speculated about will become the subjects of detailed study. It’s just amazing that they can detect this.
We are really witnessing the opening of a new tool for doing astronomy,
MIT astrophysicist Nergis Mavalvala said in an interview.
We have turned on a new sense. We have been able to see and now we will be able to hear as well.
So, what gravitational waves sound like? (2:46)
We’ve been searching for these guys for a century! Rumors have it that this discovery could make the short list for a nobel prize! Why? Well researchers are hailing that the discovery could be as exciting as when we discovered x-rays.
Its opening a door to new ways to observe the universe,
Gravitational waves should help us gain knowledge about enigmatic objects like black holes and neutron stars. The waves also may provide insight into the mysterious nature of the very early universe.
So, studying and tracking gravitational waves will help us better understand black holes, supernovas, other really large space events and even possibly the fundamental laws of the universe. We’ll learn so much more about the universe and how it works as LIGO upgrades their equipment to become more and more sensitive.
This is the holy grail of science,
said Rochester Institute of Technology astrophysicist Carlos Lousto.
The last time anything like this happened was in 1888 when Heinrich Hertz detected the radio waves that had been predicted by James Clerk Maxwell’s field-equations of electromagnetism in 1865,
added Durham University physicist Tom McLeish.
In a few decades the European Space Agency plans to launch a space-based gravitational wave detector. So hopefully more gravitational waves will be detected. If you want to learn more about this amazing discovery, check out the study published in the journal Physical Review Letters.
Just wow guys. So much incredible science happening right now, in our lifetime! Einstein would be so proud. (check out the yesterday conference here. Black Holes Merging clip? Gravitational Waves Explained, here).
We are going to hear more from these things, including things we never expected.