Three researchers (and a team of over 1000 scientists worldwide) have announced today that they have detected Einstein’s predicted gravitational waves using an ultra-sensitive sensor here on Earth rather just in the Austrian’s calculations.
Einstein had it right apparently
Over a billion years ago, in a galaxy over a billion light-years away from Earth, two black holes danced around each other until they finally collided. The resulting collision sent gravitational waves rippling from the sight of the crash throughout the universe.
Kip Thorne of the California Institute of Technology, Rainer Weiss of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Ronald Drever, formerly of Caltech and now retired in Scotland will feel the most vindicated, well perhaps Einstein himself, by today’s announcement as the three effectively bet their reputations on the find that was announced today to coincide with a paper published in the Physical Review Letters on Thursday with more than 1,000 authors.
Those authors were/are members of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO). The discovery was not just an accomplishment for the members of the team that wrote the paper but for the National Science Foundation which has spent over a $1 billion dollars chasing after this sound aspect of space.
LIGO “felt” this collision way back on September 14, 2015 less than a week before the team had officially begun and the massive team had been working overtime to make sure that there detection was, indeed, what they assumed it was.
Space now has sound
My understanding of physics is at best rudimentary, so this will focus more on the participants rather than the science as it’s quite likely that someone will be looking at a Nobel Prize win in the future for today’s paper.
Today’s findings essentially mark the the advent of gravitational-wave astronomy and a team of physicists who can now comfortably call themselves astronomers.
“I think this will be one of the major breakthroughs in physics for a long time,” said Szabolcs Marka, a Columbia University professor who is one of the LIGO scientists involved in the research and the paper.
“Everything else in astronomy is like the eye,” he said, referring to the panoply of telescopes that have given stargazers access to more and more of the electromagnetic spectrum and the ability to peer deeper and deeper into space and time. “Finally, astronomy grew ears. We never had ears before.”
Few doubted the existence of gravitational waves, hell, they’re fairly easy to make, however detection had remained impossible without LIGO as the signals are so faint as you would expect from ripples in spacetime moving out live rings in a pond where a rock was recently thrown. The LIGO instrumentation was needed and now using LIGO’s two sensors, separated by nearly 2,000 miles in Livingston, Louisiana and the other in Hanford, Washington, scientists can now see the gravitational waves that universe is awash in dating back billions of years.
“We are all over the moon and back,” said Gabriela González of Louisiana State University, a spokeswoman for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, short for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. “Einstein would be very happy, I think.”
This is just another instance of technology catching up with theory for better or worse. The discovery of the atom was met with the splitting of the atom in a very short time frame considering that atoms have always existed. Einstein’s theories began over a century ago but this latest proving of his work required LIGO and its sensors.