What are Gravitational Waves?
After a century of speculation, 50 years of experimenting, and 25 years of tinkering around with instruments, physicists have discovered Gravitational Waves. Something Albert Einstein predicted a century ago! Mr. Einstein must be very happy! But why is the world celebrating? Let’s find out what they are and what this discovery means.
How are Gravitational Waves formed?
Gravitational waves are ripples in space time which are generated by the acceleration or deceleration of massive objects in space. This means, they are ripples that carry gravitational energy away from the site of impact of two objects in space. Any massive cosmic object can produce these on acceleration. In fact, you and I can produce them if we run in circles around each other. Although, the waves we produce would be so small that it would be almost negligible.
How were the Gravitational Waves detected by humans?
Well, gravitational waves were detected by the advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observtory, or LIGO for short. The study was based on the observation of difference in time taken by light to travel in the event of a space time distortion.
Let’s understand this –
Let’s say the time taken by light to get from point A to be was measured and recorded. We know that the speed of light is assumed to be constant. Thus, if light takes a longer (or shorter) while to get from point A to point B, it must mean that a distortion in space time has occurred. This is the underlying principle used in the LIGO experiment.
What did LIGO detect?
LIGO detected the collision of two massive black holes, one about 35 times the mass of the sun, and the other one slightly smaller, about 1.3 billion light years away.
What is the significance of the discovery of the Gravitational Waves?
The universe as we know it, or, as our brightest astronomers and scientists know it, is the observable universe. Thus, up until now, what we know is what we have observed through light, i.e., through sight.
The discovery of the gravitational waves, in effect, gives astronomers ears. Now they have one more way to study the universe. Why is this important? Because knowledge is the basis of all invention. Most of the technology we use now was developed because of the discovery of radio waves back in the day. With the discovery of gravitational waves, scientists now have a new window to peek into the mysteries of the universe.
A few things scientists hope to observe, thanks to the Gravitational Waves are –
- Black holes colliding, thereby confirming positively the existence of black holes.
- Stars Exploding
- The rate at which the universe is expanding
- Possibly the origin of the big bang which created the universe
- Who knows what else???