The science community has been buzzing for days, eagerly anticipating an announcement that will finally answer a 100-year old question—do gravitational waves really exist or not?
If the answer is positive, it will be a game-changer in everything we know about the universe, because it will give us another way to observe space.
Gravitational wave astronomy will let us look further back in time and deeper inside the most extreme or remote space objects. Let's put it this way, Sheldon Cooper from TBBT is probably jumping up and down with glee.
The existence of these waves had been first predicted by the renowned Albert Einstein in 1915 in his General Theory of Relativity. However, proving it was impossible then as the technology wasn't advanced enough to study these waves. In fact, even Einstein doubted if any proof could be physically gathered as these waves are infinitesimally small.
But, now, for the first time in history, LIGO or the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory in the US has hinted that they have finally discovered gravitational waves. They are expected to give an update on their work at Washington today.
But what are these cosmic vibrations, and why do they have physicists in a tizzy? Here's a short, fascinating explanation about gravitational waves.
Most of our current information about space comes from the light (or lack of it) emitted by celestial objects and seen through telescopes (optical, radio, X-ray etc). But this light often gets distorted by gas and dust between the source and the telescope.
This is where gravitational waves will trump light. Because these streams travel straight through matter, nothing can obscure their source. So, their signal is much cleaner than those from light. Plus, they help us see objects that don't emit light, like black holes, more clearly.
Gravitational waves also form when black holes come together, supernovae explode, gamma rays burst forth and massive neutron stars wobble. So, detecting them will provide new insights into every cosmic event.