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Gravitational Waves Are Real But What Are They? This Physicist Explains To Stephen Colbert

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On Feb. 11, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory observed the very first proof of Albert Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. However, most people are not aware of its importance, that's why a theoretical physicist guested on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" last Feb. 25 to explain and demonstrate how the discovery was made.

According to Brian Greene, Einstein predicted gravitational waves a century ago, and then published the Theory of General Relativity a year after. So let's get down to the timeline and try to understand his complex ideas - or you can go straight to the bottom and watch Greene's explanation.

In 1915, Einstein came out with the Theory of General Relativity where he predicted that gravity is a scientific phenomenon, which has curvatures as an effect of mass on the spacetime fabric. As Greene and Colbert discussed, imagine a trampoline - once an object or a person gets on that trampoline, it will automatically produce a dip on that particular area. That dip or curvature is what one can consider as gravity.

Now what is the gravitational wave that Einstein added in 1916?

Einstein thought that, when massive objects interact, they send out gravitational energy that creates a ripple in spacetime which affects the other objects in space, including Earth. These ripples are the gravitational waves and these waves cause the objects it interacts with to expand and contract. Like the video below.

Back to the trampoline example, observe that when there is a surge of activity on one end of the trampoline, one can still sense it just by touching any point on the surface. It does not matter if it is a weak disturbance because the important thing is that the surge of energy from the activity on one end caused a ripple and was felt on the other side. The hand touching the trampoline did not noticeably contract and expand, but the energy did ripple across the surface.

Scientists at LIGO detected that ripple - sent by two massive black holes merging using its advanced facilities located in Washington and Louisiana - and the only way scientists would consider an event as a definite proof is if the gravitational wave interference was detected at the same time by the two observatories, which are more than 2,000 miles away from each other.

So, what makes the discovery so important? Much of scientific studies measure objects in space using light waves. Now there's a whole new proven measurement for them to use and it could just lead to greater astronomical discoveries.

Watch Greene's brilliant presentation below.

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