Saturday, February 13, 2016

Gravitational Waves: They Found Them, For Real

Somewhere in (or out of) the Multiverse, the shade of Albert Einstein is smiling.

From The Guardian:
Gravitational waves: breakthrough discovery after a century of expectation
Scientists announce discovery of clear gravitational wave signal, ripples in spacetime first predicted by Albert Einstein

Physicists have announced the discovery of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime that were first anticipated by Albert Einstein a century ago.

“We have detected gravitational waves. We did it,” said David Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo), at a press conference in Washington.

The announcement is the climax of a century of speculation, 50 years of trial and error, and 25 years perfecting a set of instruments so sensitive they could identify a distortion in spacetime a thousandth the diameter of one atomic nucleus across a 4km strip of laserbeam and mirror.

The waves were discovered in the wake (literally, I suppose) of the collision two black holes a very long distance from us. The signal received from the LIGO matched the mathematical model of the event to a very high degree of probability; in other words, what they observed is for real.

So what difference does this discovery make? Remember: until ~378,000 years after the Big Bang (hence 378,000 light years from that event), space was opaque to electromagnetic radiation, e.g., light and radio waves. So no matter how good a conventional light or radio telescope scientists manage to create, they cannot see closer than that to the Big Bang. But gravitational waves are not similarly stopped. And a lot of awesome and interesting stuff happened in that era; scientists would surely learn a lot about how our universe formed (and presumably about how other universes form, if there's really a multiverse). That alone has me excited.

Here are some other worthwhile articles (not in chronological order; sorry):

Science News: Gravitational waves explained
The Guardian: Gravitational waves: breakthrough discovery announced - as it happened
Sciencealert: IT'S OFFICIAL: Gravitational waves have been detected, Einstein was right

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