Gravitational wave discovery to open 'a window on the universe'

U.S. physicists say they've detected gravitational waves for the very first time, marking a discovery that proves one of Albert Einstein's last unverified theories about the universe.

See Full Article

Einstein theorized that gravitational waves are tiny ripples in the fabric of space-time created by all objects moving through time and space. Researchers from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory revealed Thursday that they've detected some of these ripples, created by the collision of two gigantic black holes.

"We did it," LIGO laboratory executive director David Reitze said at an announcement at the U.S. National Science Foundation.

The discovery is expected to open up a whole new avenue for physicists to examine the nature and history of the universe, by allowing them to observe the gravitational properties of massive bodies in space.

Reitze compared the impact of the discovery to Galileo's invention of the telescope.

"We're opening a window on the universe," he said.

Reitze said the gravitational wave was detected at the LIGO facility in Louisiana, on Sept. 14, 2015.

The discovery comes 100 years after Einstein first predicted the existence of gravitational waves, as part of his theory of relativity.

What is a gravitational wave?

The simplest way to grasp the idea of gravitational waves is to picture all of space-time as a big, stretchy trampoline. (Space-time, by the way, is our three-dimensional existence, plus time. Just as something can be located at an X, Y and Z coordinate in the three-dimensional world, it also has a time coordinate in space-time).

If all of space-time is like a trampoline, then a large object, such as the sun, is like a bowling ball weighing down a spot on the trampoline. For comparison's sake, the Earth would be like a marble, spiraling in circles around the large depression made by the bowling ball (i.e. the sun). These objects send out gravitational waves as they move across space-time, like ripples moving through the fabric of a trampoline. They're very, very minute, but they're there, and scientists believe they've learned how to detect them.

But because the waves are so hard to detect, the LIGO researchers had to look for something that would make a massive wave, such as the collision of two black holes. It would be like putting two elephants on the trampoline at the same time.

How did they detect the waves?

According to Einstein's theory, gravitational waves stretch and squeeze reality ever so slightly, so that we can't even see it happening. However, light doesn't play by the same rules, so it actually appears to warp as it travels past large objects – although it's actually reality changing, not the light. Astronomer Arthur Eddington confirmed that element of Einstein's theory in 1919, when he observed light "bending" as it travelled past the sun.

The LIGO project is based on this theory that a gravitational wave will bend all of reality, except light. The LIGO set up twin detectors in Livingston, La., and Hanford, Wash., with lasers shining down four-kilometre tunnels. Researchers then waited for a massive gravitational wave to pass through Earth, warping space-time ever so slightly, and thereby changing the relative distance traveled by the lasers. According to Einstein's theory, the change would be incredibly minute, so the instruments had to be very precise in order to detect and measure it.

Is it for real?

The scientific community has already had a false positive when it comes to detecting gravitational waves, so scrutiny of this new discovery will be intense.

In 2014, a team of Harvard researchers claimed to have detected gravitational waves triggered by the so-called "Big Bang" that theoretically started the universe. However, that discovery was debunked early last year, when closer analysis revealed that cosmic dust was responsible for the phenomenon.

On Thursday, Reitze said his team is convinced of the accuracy of the evidence they've collected.

"It took us months of careful checking, rechecking, analysis, (and) looking at every piece of data," he said. "We've convinced ourselves."



Advertisements

Latest Tech & Science News

  • Man is charged with flying drones to bring drugs from Mexico

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SAN DIEGO -- A 25-year-old U.S. citizen has been charged with using a drone to smuggle more than 13 pounds (6.1 kilograms) of methamphetamine from Mexico by drone, an unusually large seizure for what is still a novel technique to bring illegal drugs into the United States, authorities said Friday. Source
  • Eclipse to have big impact on California power grid

    Tech & Science CTV News
    SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- When the moon passes in front of the sun during Monday's eclipse California will lose enough solar energy to power more than 1.5 million homes, a figure that underscores the state's growing reliance on energy from the sun. Source
  • Asian carp found near Lake Michigan got past barriers

    Tech & Science CTV News
    TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. -- Officials say an Asian carp found in a Chicago waterway this summer apparently got past an electric barrier system intended to prevent the invasive fish from reaching the Great Lakes. The Asian Carp Regional Coordinating Committee says an autopsy shows the 4-year-old male silver carp originated in the Illinois/Middle Mississippi watershed. Source
  • Demand for eclipse glasses outpaces supply

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Ali Van Orman is still looking for specialized glasses to protect her family's eyes during Monday's solar eclipse because she never counted on demand totally eclipsing supply. She tried to buy a coveted pair of solar eclipse glasses for herself and two children from Amazon back in July, but the hot commodities wouldn't have arrived in time. Source
  • Reduced speeds for right whales prompts surcharge for Oceanex Montreal-St. John's route

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Due to new rules brought in by the federal government in an attempt to protect an unusual number of endangered right whales in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, Oceanex has introduced a temporary surcharge for vessel operations between St. Source
  • NASA launches last of its longtime tracking satellites

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- NASA launched the last of its longtime tracking and communication satellites on Friday, a vital link to astronauts in orbit as well as the Hubble Space Telescope. The end of the era came with a morning liftoff of TDRS-M, the 13th satellite in the Tracking and Data Relay Satellite network. Source
  • NASA marking 40 years since Voyager spacecraft launches

    Tech & Science CTV News
    CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. -- Forty years after blasting off, Earth's most distant ambassadors -- the twin Voyager spacecraft -- are carrying sounds and music of our planet ever deeper into the cosmos. Think of them as messages in bottles meant for anyone -- or anything -- out there. Source
  • Digital vigilantism after Charlottesville: Get ready for more naming and shaming

    Tech & Science CBC News
    In many ways, last weekend's rally in Charlottesville, Va., was a chilling throwback to an era most people had hoped we'd moved on from, one in which racists were emboldened to march in the streets, denouncing the lives and rights of others through violence and angry chants, yelling, "White lives matter" and "Jews will not replace us. Source
  • Solar eclipse myth-busting: Facts and fiction behind nature's stunning event

    Tech & Science CBC News
    Have you heard that it's safe to look at an eclipse through sunglasses? Or that radiation during one could be dangerous for unborn children? Don't believe it. Solar eclipses aren't your run-of-the-mill event: while they occur about once every 18 months, the same location may not experience one for many years. Source
  • Hundreds of birds injured by kites on Indian independence day

    Tech & Science CTV News
    NEW DELHI - The annual tradition of flying kites over the Indian capital on Independence Day takes a painful toll on birds that fall victim to their razor-sharp strings. Workers at the Charity Birds Hospital see it happen every year - mostly to pigeons but also to crows, eagles and parrots. Source