UPDATE: Gravitational Waves Discovered!
Albert Einstein theorized that when cosmic-level events take place, such as a supernova or two massive black holes meeting, space and time actually warp, creating gravitational waves. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) experiment was developed to try and find out if Einstein was right. After a five year rebuild of the equipment to make it more sensitive, the experiment was turned back on in September. Almost immediately, the rumors started flying. The LIGO researches were quick to play down those rumors and said, “we’ll certainly let you know when we have news to share.”
Well, they just scheduled a press conference for Thursday.
Why is This a Big Deal?
If gravitational waves have indeed been discovered, they will fundamentally change how major events that take place in the universe are studied. Currently, things like black holes and supernovas can only be studied via electromagnetic radiation such as x-rays, visible light, infrared, radio waves, and microwaves. All of those radiation types give a different view into what’s being studied – and all of them can be distorted when traveling through space to reach the Earth. The theory is that gravitational waves do not distort. If true, it means they could provide crystal clear views of massive cosmic level events. It would be like that first time you go to the eye doctor and suddenly see clearly.
Of course, until Thursday this is all supposition. The public has no idea what announcement will be made. But if it is about gravitational waves being discovered, it could usher in a modern day renaissance in astronomy and astrophysics. It could open an entirely new branch of science.
We’ll just have to wait for a couple days to see.
Photo credit: NASA (showing a neutron star)