Here's Why Discovery Of Einstein's Gravitational Waves Is Such A Big Deal


Gravitational waves are ripples in the space-time fabric. Albert Einstein proposed it way back in 1916.

One hundred years later, on Feb. 11, scientists announced for the first time a direct evidence of gravitational waves from a collision of two black holes.

The groundbreaking moment in history was captured by the advanced Large Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) on Sept. 14, 2015. But why is the discovery making so much wave?

Fresh Look At The Universe

First of all, humanity gets a fresh new look at the universe. The colossal stellar occurrences can now be documented using an advanced instrument. It opens the window to a whole new range of information we still don't know about our universe. The LIGO instrument provides the scientific community a way to listen to the gravitational waves and give a better explanation to what was once just a theory.

"You're opening your eyes – in this case, our ears – to a new set of signals from the universe that our previous technologies did not allow us to receive, study and learn from," said LIGO team member Vassiliki Kalogera, an astronomy and physics professor at the Northwestern University in Illinois.

"We can observe the universe in this new way; not using light, but using gravity," said physicist Brian Greene.

Black Holes Merging

There's also the collision itself. Before the study, there was no actual proof of black holes fusing together to form an even bigger one. Forty years after the LIGO instrument was proposed, it finally captured the elusive phenomenon.

Due to lack of light, black holes can't be easily observed by light- and X-ray-detecting telescopes. Some can be observed by light-based telescopes due to the light from nearby stars. The black holes LIGO found were 29 and 36 times bigger than our own sun's mass. With a new instrument on board, we can be sure that scientists will shed new light on cosmic objects and activities. For instance, if a supernova happens in our galaxy, its actual dynamics can now be recorded using LIGO.

Space-Time Warp

Einstein's theory of relativity was tested by numerous scientists since its proposal in 1916. However, some of the theory's aspects were so elusive to observe, especially the space-time warp. Warped space-time expert and LIGO founding member Kip Thorne said that the two black holes that collided in September created a "violent storm in the fabric of space and time."

Many questions are still left unanswered, including the inner mechanics of black holes, but these will unravel slowly now that the scientific community has a new set of ears.

Photo : NASA Blueshift | Flickr

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