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Trending Science: A century after Einstein’s General Theory of Relatively, scientists finally celebrate the discovery of gravitational waves

Astronomers have announced the major discovery of clear gravitational waves, ripples in spactime first predicted in 1916 by Albert Einstein, which will now open up an entirely new way for humanity to understand the universe.
Trending Science: A century after Einstein’s General Theory of Relatively, scientists finally celebrate the discovery of gravitational waves
The discovery is the culmination of decades of searching and 25 years of perfecting a set of instruments, called interferometers, so sensitive that they are able to detect a change in the distance between the solar system and the nearest star 4 light years away to the thickness of a human hair.

Detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Collaboration’s sophisticated interferometer instruments in the United States, specifically the states of Washington and Louisiana, the phenomenon that created the waves was the collision of two black holes.

The two black holes are around 1.3 billion light years away and have masses equal to 29 and 36 suns resptively. The signals picked up by LIGO indicate how the collision occurred. At the beginning of the signal, they had begun circling each other 30 times a second. By the end of the 20 millisecond snatch of data, they had accelerated to 250 times a second before the final collision and a violent merger.

The collision of the two black holes resulted in a violent storm in the fabric of spacetime, one which alternated between speeding up and slowing down, which caused the physical bending of space.

The LIGO Collaboration, which has published it discovery in the journal ‘Physical Review Letters’, includes a number of labs worldwide, including in the UK and Germany, as well as the US. Much of the work for the Washington and Louisiana interferometer machines was completed at the smaller GEO600 interferometer in Hannover, Germany.

During a press conference announcing the discovery, David Reitze, Executive Director of LIGO called the discovery a ‘scientific moonshot’ comparing it to the 1960s’ moon landings.

Building on Einstein’s legacy

‘This observation is truly incredible science and marks three milestones for physics,’ explained Prof. Alberto Vecchio of the University of Birmingham, one of the researchers at LIGO. ‘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 object predicted by Einstein’s theory [of general relativity].’

According to Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relatively, any accelerated mass should produce ripples in the fabric of space and time. However, the effect is very weak and only very large objects, such as an exploding star, are expected to warp their surroundings any appreciable degree.

Now, with the LIGO discovery, astronomers may now be able to begin finding answers to some of the biggest challenges in physics, such as the unification of forces that link quantum theory with gravity.

Currently the General Theory of Relativity describes well the cosmos on the largest scale but physicists look to quantum ideas when discussing the smallest interactions.

By being able to now study places in the universe where gravitational forces are really extreme, such as black holes, astronomers may be able to open a path to new, more complete thinking on these issues.

Exploring a new frontier

Moving forward, the implications could be vast. Astronomers, by discovering the gravitational waves, can now finally begin to explore what is known as the ‘dark’ universe – the majority part of the cosmos that is unable to be seen with the light telescopes that are used today.

Astronomers should also be able to ‘look’ much deeper in the universe and, consequently, back in time, potentially even being able to eventually sense the exact moment of the Big Bang.

Renowned physicists from across the world, including Professor Stephen Hawking of Cambridge University, have expressed their belief that the discovery has heralded a key moment in scientific history.

With such a monumental discovery, one immediate key question that is now being asked in both scientific and media circles is: A Nobel Prize for the overjoyed LIGO scientists?

Source: Based on media reports

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  • Germany, United Kingdom, United States
Record Number: 124810 / Last updated on: 2016-02-18
Category: Trending Science
Provider: EC