Who Knew! Gravitational Waves Exist!

Stephen L Kanaval  |

Who would have thunk it?

Einstein predicted gravitational waves using his big brain and pen and paper. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) used two enormous detectors, one in Louisiana, and the other in Washington . The detectors were built in 1972 at the behest of physicist Rainier Weiss, now 83-years old. The nineteen hundred miles that separate these two facilities is traversed in less than ten ten thousandth of a second. LIGO's design was really about detecting the curve of space and time as it approaches mass--what we call gravity. These curving waves are very weak and travel around us and through us regularly. Many gave up on detecting gravitational waves, a few spurned physicists said, that they move at the speed of thought. Yet, in our lifetime we have evidence of them.

The collision of two black holes billions of years ago caused a ripple in the laser detectors at LIGO. The small scientists at LIGO were initially skeptical of the reading. They tested every aspect of the data. They reviewed instrument, broke apart software codes, and tested to see if the reading were disturbances in the ionosphere from the Pacific Rim. In addition, there are scientists whose job it is to send fake signals to the facility in order to keep the LIGO team on their toes. These scientists needed to be emailed and confirm that the disturbance was not one of theirs. Just think, the gravitational waves were detected in September 2015 and just yesterday were they able to verify with certainty their findings!

So what does any of this mean? First, it means that we have greater knowledge of black holes. Scientists were able to study the "ringdown," which is the burst of energy when a black hole becomes spherical. It may also help us connect the dots on how massive black holes at the epicenter of galaxies are originally formed. Second, it will allow astrophysicits to illuminate quadrants of space and time that were not available before. The easiest way to undertsand it, is to say that now we can listen to the universe,; whereas, before we were looking at silent illustrations.

The Nobel Committee can just hand over the prize already. It is in the bag...

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