Gravitational Waves

Gravitational Waves

Gravitational Waves

I get the sense that the recent discovery of a means of measuring Gravitational Waves hasn’t attracted the same interest as the discovery of the Higg’s Boson or the discovery of Homo naledi or the excitement of landing on a comet, but it’s pretty impressive stuff.

And the least reason for this isn’t the tool by which it was done, which was to measure the difference between the time it took for laser beams to bounce along two perpendicular 4 km metal bars. The sensitivity of the detectors are absolutely mind-boggling but they have to be given the relatively small distortion in space a far away black hole event will have at this distance (and time difference). I imagine it was far more intense closer to the black holes that were detected: perhaps enough to be observable without special equipment.

Why is the discovery important?

Well, one reason is more mundane but still important, that we now have a means by which we can detect gravitational perturbations that may be much closer to home. For instance, one could imagine it being used to analyse the internal workings of the inside of our planet or for detecting deep-sea submarines (yet further making a total waste of money anything spent on such vanity projects as Trident).

In scientific terms, we should now be able to detect events from the start of the universe until the moment at which the first visible light was generated by the nuclear fusion inside a star. We already know that much of the early universe was very different. Stars were larger. Galaxies more amorphous. And a complete absence of all but the lightest elements. Now we shall discover what was going on before there were stars, before atoms like Hydrogen and Helium assembled and when the universe was much smaller and much hotter.

We also now have a tool to study black holes and other astronomical entities that leave no visible trace of their existence.

All in all, it’s pretty exciting.

 

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