Feb

11

LIGO Announces Discovery Of Gravity Waves (Ft. Neil-deGrasse Tyson)

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Is it really an important scientific discovery if Neil deGrasse Tyson isn't there to announce it?
Is it really an important scientific discovery if Neil deGrasse Tyson isn't there to announce it?

Is it really an important scientific discovery if Neil deGrasse Tyson isn’t there to announce it?

One hundred years ago, Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves with his General Theory of Relativity. For years, Columbia researchers, including Prof. Szabi Marka, Dr. Zsuzsa Marka, and Dr. Imre Bartos, have been involved in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a group of physics institutes and other research groups dedicated for the search of gravitational waves. And this morning, those researchers announced that the LIGO group has detected gravitational waves from two black holes that merged about a million years ago.

This detection marks a tremendous achievement for the field of physics research, as it provides conclusive evidence for the Theory of Relativity. As Prof. Ivana Hughes wrote in an email to Frontiers of Science students, this discovery has “opened up a whole new way to look at and study the Universe.”

And, as though that isn’t already enough to be excited about, Neil deGrasse Tyson made an appearance at this morning’s announcement! Bwog wasn’t lucky enough to snag an interview, but it was easy to tell that he was thrilled.

For a more in-depth explanation of the significance of this discovery, look after the jump for a quote from an email a physics professor Thomas Humensky sent out to his students yesterday about the event.

Until the 1800’s, all of our investigations of the universe relied on optical light, a form of electromagnetic waves (we will spend the rest of the spring discussing electricity and magnetism, capping the semester off with electromagnetic waves). Radio waves provided a radical, new view of the universe, starting after World War II. Balloons and satellites starting in the 60’s through today have allowed us to explore the universe using the rest of the EM spectrum: microwaves, X-rays, and gamma rays, and every new part of the EM spectrum we’ve been able to explore has taught us new and unexpected things about the universe (microwaves –> history and structure (flatness!) of the universe’s geometry; X-rays and gamma rays –> ubiquity of particle acceleration in astrophysical settings; etc etc).

Gravitational waves are the equivalent carrier of the gravitational force. Where the EM force is carried by EM waves (or photons, in cases where a particle description works better), the gravitational force is mediated by gravitational waves (or gravitons), but they have never been detected directly. They will give us a radically different way of studying the universe, and particularly of studying the interactions of very massive or dense objects: black hole – black hole and neutron star – neutron star binary systems, especially, letting us study how gravity works in those extreme environments. LIGO’s goal for ~20 years now has been the search for gravitational waves, and in 2015, LIGO began operating after an upgrade that was expected to make the observatory sensitive enough to have a realistic chance of making convincing detections at a rate of ~ few per year. Given the rumors flying and the prominence of this press event tomorrow, it seems this first detection may be at hand…

Cool grandpa of physicists everywhere via Joanna Zhang

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