“We have detected gravitational waves.” LIGO Laboratory Executive Director David Reitze
Today, Scientists declared that, for the first time in history, Gravitational Waves have been discovered.
Gravitational waves are currents in space time throughout the universe. What is truly extraordinary about this discovery is that the existence of Gravitational waves was predicted by Albert Einstein 100 years ago, but scientists have never been able to identify them, until now.
The discovery was originated by the U.S. based Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO). The task of Ligo was done to directly measure gravitational waves. In order to do that, LIGO scientists needed to create the most exact measuring device the world had ever seen.
In 1992 the LIGO project began and it was the largest scientific asset the National Science Foundation (NSF) has ever made.
This morning at an NSF press conference, David Reitze, LIGO Laboratory Executive Director, said that “This was a scientific moon shot. And we did it, we landed on the moon.”
LIGO consists of 2 four kilometer (2.5 mile) tunnels in Louisiana and also in the state of Washington. Since gravitational waves stretch space in one route and compress space in the other, LIGO was designed to measure changes in length through large land distances.
If they could discover a compression in the LIGO tunnels in one direction and other stretch of land in other, they could theoretically spot a gravitational wave.
The “ruler” used by the scientists to measure these tunnel lengths was speed of light. Speed of light is always constant and it is equal to (3*10^8 m/s), so using LIGO the length of the tunnels can be determined, by measuring the time it takes for a laser to reflect from one end of the tunnel to the other.
Gravitational waves are generated when masses accelerate. On September 14th, 2015, the signal of gravitational wave that the LIGO scientists discovered, matches the exact signal that was expected from two merging black holes rushing at half the speed of light.
It took about a half year to declare this discovery because the LIGO scientists wanted time to rule out every other potential source of that signal. Today scientists are confident that it was formed by a gravitational wave.
David Reitze: “What’s really amazing about this is this is the first time that this kind of a system has ever been seen – a binary black hole merger – and its proof that binary black holes exist in the universe.”
Reitze clarified that the black holes that generated this gravitational wave were merged 1.3 billion years ago. It took that long for the wave to travel back to the Earth.
Each of these black holes was 30 times the mass of the sun and was rushing at half the speed of light when they struck into each other.
The ability to measure gravitational waves will open up a completely new window for astronomy. This will enable scientists to look at the universe in a new way, Reitze described.
David Reitze said:
“This is the first time the universe has spoken to us through gravitational waves. Up until now we’ve been deaf to gravitational waves. Today, we’re able to hear them.”
Today’s declaration is a milestone for the scientific community. LIGO proved that we now have the technology to detect gravitational waves. This capability, rather than the signal detected back in September, is the most important part of today. The LIGO scientists have created a new way to study the universe, which means the most exciting discoveries may lay ahead of us.
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