It was like Christmas came early when news broke out on Feb. 11: the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) had detected ripples in the fabric of space-time in 2015 and now identifies the phenomena as gravitational waves. It had proved that Albert Einstein's theory was right.

About a week after the announcement, members of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) were requested to testify before Congress regarding their research.

Congress asked scientists this question in particular: what does the discovery mean for science, innovation and humanity?

Grasping Universal Truths

For both the scientific community and the general public, the gravitational wave discovery sparks sheer inspiration. In fact, LIGO's announcement took the world, especially the Internet, by storm, as evidenced by approximately 17 million tweets generated by the buzz.

"After we announced our discovery, the amount of reaction to it worldwide was awe-inspiring," said LIGO Laboratory director David Reitze in Caltech.

Gabriela González, spokesperson for LSC, said on the days following the announcement, almost 1,300 people visited the LIGO Science Education Center in Louisiana.

Aside from inspiration, the announcement opens up a new realm of information for scientists – a new sensory view of the universe, like a deaf person hearing sound for the first time, Reitze said.

With that, advanced LIGO project leader David Shoemaker is confident that the discovery could unlock many different things beyond our wildest imagination.

"The window to this new world of gravitational waves has just been cracked open," said Shoemaker.

As the window is opened wider and more people look out the landscape, Shoemaker said scientists will be rewarded with discoveries that will provide "a thrill of understanding things much bigger than ourselves."

Development Of Advanced Technologies

In addition, LIGO scientists believe the discovery could prompt the ability to build a stronger, international workforce. It would also be followed by the development of spin-off technologies.

Although LSC members were careful to point out that they cannot exactly predict the kind of technological advances, many had referenced to Einstein's theory of general relativity. What was once an obscure theory is now being used in GPS measurements.

Fleming Crim of the National Science Foundation said there are noteworthy efforts of laser stabilization and vibration isolation.

"All of those are spinning forward into technologies that are extremely important for the country," he said.

Crim said the discovery also marks the birth of gravitational wave astronomy, which is now a new tool for studying the cosmos.

The majesty of exploring the universe triggers ambitious experiments, he said, but most importantly, the science of gravitational wave astronomy will advance education and inspire students in developing the workforce the society needs.

Scientists who come to LIGO often fall in love with what they do. More than half of the scientists at LIGO are postdoctoral scholars, graduate students and even undergraduates.

González notes that LIGO members are young and busy investigators training in an interdisciplinary and international scientific environment. Other LIGO members even proceed to distinguished careers in national laboratories or high-tech industries.

Continued Studies

The gravitational wave detected by the LIGO team could not have been possible without the two black holes whirling around each other and merging together in a collision. These black holes were reported to be about 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun.

For many centuries, scientists were only able to study black holes indirectly by working with optical light.

Now, LIGO's sensitivity is being improved. Crim said the upgraded detector, called Advanced LIGO, is designed to be thrice more sensitive than the previous one, and should begin investigations with a greater reach. This could potentially detect black holes that are a hundred, 200 or 500 times the mass of the sun.

Scientists also expect to study more exotic cosmic objects such as supernovas and neutron stars. Supernovas are stars that have exploded with so much luminosity that they typically outshine their host galaxy. On the other hand, neutron stars have halted the fusion process in their cores and collapsed in on themselves. They have become so dense that one teaspoon would weigh about 10 million tons on our planet.

Lastly, the LIGO team speculates that one weird phenomenon would occur if bursts of gravitational waves were detected to have come from cosmic strings – theoretical defects in the ripples of space-time.

"There will certainly be surprises," added Shoemaker.

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