Scientists have come out with a stunning discovery in their quest to fully understand gravity. Hundred years after world renowned physicist Albert Einstein predicted that there were gravitational waves in space, a team of astrophysicists has proven his theory right. They have observed the warping of space-time generated by the collision of two black holes more than a billion light-years from Earth. Scientists are overjoyed with the discovery of these waves, since it opens the door to a new way of observing the cosmos. For them, it’s like turning a silent movie into a talkie because these waves are the soundtrack of the cosmos.
Back in 1916, Albert Einstein had first theorized the concept of Gravitational waves as part of his theory of general relativity.
The discovery was made by a team of international astrophysicists, who used the latest and newly upgraded instrument known as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).
LIGO Diagram depicting contrasts between the signal detected by LIGO’s facilities in Washington and Louisiana
LIGO is excruciatingly sensitive and detects a gravitational wave from the distant crash of two black holes, causing ripples. The instrument itself cost $1.1 billion and had an all-star team of astrophysicists using it to detect the phenomena.
Scientists first took up this search when in 1970s and indirect proof of the existence of the gravitational waves was found.
The computations had found that orbits of two colliding stars had changed ever so slightly that it could have been due to gravitational ripples in space and time.
The 1970’s work was even honoured as part of the 1993 Nobel Prize in physics.
But unlike 1970 when the proof was indirect, the announcement on February 11 is that of a discovery of a direct detection of a gravitational wave and that make a big difference. According to Marc Kamionkowsi, of Johns Hopkins University, who was not part of the discovery team:
“It’s one thing to know soundwaves exist, but it’s another to actually hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. In this case we’re actually getting to hear black holes merging.”
California Institute of Technology (CIT) and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) started building two LIGO detectors in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, with funds given to them by National Science Foundation.
In 2001, they turned it on but over the years had no luck. Over the years scientists realized that they had to build a even more advanced detection system and started it last September.
The newly built LIGO detectors in some frequencies are three times more sensitive than the old one and thus is able to detect ripples at lower frequencies that the old one couldn’t.
With this huge discovery having taken place months after the upgrade, more upgrades are planned as sensitivity is crucial in further finding these waves and helping detect the stretching and squeezing of space-time by these gravitational waves is incredibly tiny.
The discovery has taken the world by storm, with many taking to social media to express their joy: