A team of LIGO scientists announced something extraordinary a few days back. They were able to observe gravitational waves, created around 1.3 billion light years back by a collision between two black holes. These waves were detected on September 14, 2015 using an equipment that could identify a distortion in spacetime a thousandth the diameter of one atomic nucleus across a 4km strip of laser beam and mirror. And the most amazing part about this is that it confirmed Einstein’s 100-year-old theory of gravitational waves. We can speculate that this can open new grounds to understanding the universe and its formation.
What are gravitational waves?
Before we go on to explain what gravitational waves mean to us, let us first understand what they are.
According to Einstein’s theory, the fabric of space-time can become curved by anything massive in the Universe. When cataclysmic events happen, such as black holes merging or stars exploding, these curves can ripple out elsewhere as gravitational waves, just like if someone had dropped a stone in a pond.
By the time those ripples get to us on Earth, they’re tiny (around a billionth of the diameter of an atom), which is why scientists have struggled for so many years to find them.
But thanks to LIGO – the laser interferometer gravitational-wave observatory – and the scientists working day and night for this, we finally have been able to detect these waves. The LIGO laboratory works by bouncing lasers back and forth in two 4-km-long pipes, allowing physicists to measure incredibly small changes in spacetime.
On 14 September 2015, they picked up a relatively big change in their Livingston lab in Louisiana, what you’d call a blip in the system. Then, 7 milliseconds later, they detected the same blip with their lab in Hanford, Washington, 4,000 km away, suggesting that it had been caused by a gravitational wave passing through Earth.
Since that day, scientists have been trying to figure if this could have been caused by something else and after months of research, they have concluded that it’s the gravitational waves.The discovery also has statistical significant of 5.1 sigma, which means there’s only a 1 in 6 million chance that the result is a fluke.
In fact, these signals perfectly match up to what scientists had predicted from the Einstein’s theory. The physicists also managed to trace the signal back to the merging of two black holes around 1.3 billion years ago.
But what does it mean to us?
Gravitational waves give us an important way to observe space and understand a bit about its complexity. Before gravitational waves were not confirmed, we could tell very little about the collision of black holes, supernovas or even when a massive neutron star wobble. But after this amazing discovery, Scientists will now be able to track objects that don’t emit visible light, such as black holes and neutron stars, and other objects we might not even be aware of.
Being able to detect and analyse the information carried on them would open up a new area of study of some of the most important events in the history of the universe, such as the Big Bang, and help us find out more about how the universe was created.
And wouldn’t that a big thing? If Scientists are accurately able to understand Big Bang and confirm it as the origin of the universe, every God would become redundant and that would change everything. So, Are you ready for it?