Albert Einstein never fails to amaze. A century after he theorised gravitational waves, scientists have finally confirmed its existence. Basically, the ripples of two black holes which collided 1.3 billion years ago were being studied since September 2015 and the findings were made public on 11 February.
While there's been a lot of excitement about the discovery, the sheer technicality of how the finding will be applied to modern science is too much for the lay man to understand.
Before we begin our lesson, here's something to remember, and it's quite basic actually: Think of space-time as a massive fabric held tight in all directions. The common example is that of a trampoline. Now imagine putting things on this trampoline -- like stars and suns and planets -- the effect on the fabric (or the warping) is what creates and is felt as gravity.
So here's us breaking it down for you in simpler terms -- why is this finding such a big deal?
Time-travel? The question has been raised... and answered. It's a no -- for now.
"I don’t think it [the detection of gravitational waves] is going to bring us any closer to being able to do time travel. I wish it would," said LIGO (The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) co-founder Kip Thorne during a press conference.
The discovery is important in answering a lot of questions about how gravity behaves, but doing an Interstellar is still not possible.
But there is some hope. As explained in an IB Times report:
The discovery could possibly speed up the time machine being built by Boyd Mallett, a physics professor at the University of Connecticut, who is working on it based on Einstein’s theory that light and matter create gravity, and if gravity could change time and light, light could create gravity and alter time.
Black-holes do exist: Yes, we were unsure before today.
When you can't really travel too far in space, you have to rely on circumstantial evidence. While black-holes have usually been thought to be around, the LIGO discovery is the first proper confirmation of their existence. So yes, those discussions about being sucked into something with no chance of returning are true.
Why is this a confirmation? Black-holes don't let light escape -- so gravitational waves of this magnitude point to a merger of two massive objects which cannot be seen. LIGO already said that they don't know where the collision happened (how would they, remember black-holes don't give out light?) but they detected the gravtitational waves -- for a fraction of a second. Also, Einstein had predicted that these would be observed only when two black-holes collide.
An AFP report reads:
Detectable gravitational waves open exciting new avenues in astronomy -- allowing measurements of faraway stars, galaxies and black holes based on the waves they make. Indirectly, it also adds to the evidence that black holes -- never directly observed -- do actually exist.
Yes, the universe is expanding: Space documentaries always tell you this. The discovery adds more weight to the theory that the universe is stretching.
Here's more information from the AFP report:
So-called primordial gravitational waves, the hardest kind to detect and not implicated in Thursday's announcement, would boost another leading theory of cosmology, that of "inflation" or exponential expansion of the infant Universe. Primordial waves are theorised to still be resonating throughout the Universe today, though feebly. If they are found, they would tell us about the energy scale at which inflation ocurred, shedding light on the Big Bang itself.
Discovery of a new sense: Szabolcs Marka, a LIGO scientist, compared the breakthrough to developing a new sense -- not just a tool to observe.
"Imagine that you have all of your senses. But you can’t hear, and the first day you gain hearing, you get a new life. Imagine how your life would change if you can actually observe, sense your surroundings in a very different way. This is what we actually gain with gravitational waves," Marka said.
So, does all this really matter? Not in daily life, no. There won't be time travel or sudden discoveries of life on other planets. But, for those who observe the universe and its patterns, it's a tremendous achievement. It's a big deal for physics and how space-time functions. Imagine you suddenly found out that there was an extra ear at the back of your head all this while.
"Now that we have detectors able to detect these systems, now that we know binary black holes are out there, we’ll begin listening to the universe," LIGO scientist Gabriela González told Mashable.
Feature image source: Reuters