Japanese scientists led by 2015 Nobel Prize in Physics awardee Takaaki Kajita have recently announced that they are now on the testing phase of the KAGRA telescope as a way of contributing to the world's search for gravitational waves.
The United States, which confirmed the existence of gravitational waves through the National Science Foundation's Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), wants to set up a third detector in India to get a deeper understanding of the waves' propagation. LIGO is also upgrading its device to become more sensitive to gravitational waves.
Aside from proving that Albert Einstein was right, what is it in gravitational waves that researchers are spending millions of dollars and years of study to know it?
What Are Gravitational Waves?
Gravitational waves are the ripples in the fabric of space-time, which has been defined by Einstein in his theory of general relativity. These ripples form when there is a significant acceleration or deceleration of a pair of masses within the fabric, causing an amount of energy that can lead to a major disturbance.
The gravitational waves detected by LIGO's laser interferometer were formed when two black holes, which produced a lot of energy, merged 1.2 billion light-years away and gained a mass 62 times more than the sun. The event, by cosmos standards, is incredibly massive that it sent ripples outward in the speed of light until they reached Earth.
When compared to daily life, these ripples work similarly as when you stir your finger in, say, a pond or a lake. As you begin to gradually accelerate over time, you can see these ripples in the water become bigger and travel farther.
Why They Matter
Detecting gravitational waves is actually not new as there have been pieces of evidence many years ago, but this is the first time that it has been directly detected.
This is important because, for one, we might have made Einstein proud if he were alive. He once thought we wouldn't be able to sense it because these ripples may already be so weak by the time they reach us. It could be, but science has already allowed us to build something that can also be very sensitive to these small vibrations in the universe.
On a more personal non-space note, it means that humans have the funds, the knowledge and the skill to learn more about the cosmos.
Further, and perhaps the most important of all, gravitational waves - and their discovery - will help us not only appreciate the complexity of space but also the events that lead to the formation and death of everything in it, from neutrons to supernovas, stars, planets and perhaps the universe itself.