It’s not often that physics makes front page news, but it did today because, for the first time ever, scientists have been able to confirm the existence of gravitational waves.
This discovery represents the final confirmation of Einstein’s theory of relativity, which is a big deal.
While we understand the gravity of all of this, the actual science behind it… not so much.
This morning we put a call for help out into the cosmos and, happily, the universe provided answers straight from the mouth of our favourite astronomer Dr. Alan Duffy.
Here’s what he had to say when he, very obligingly, answered my terrible questions.
So, what the hell is a gravitational wave?
A gravitational wave is the final prediction of Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Basically, it is that the space and time that we move in, that we experience, actually ripples.
Think about this: If you throw a rock into a lake you get ripples coming up on the surface of the water.
If you get two really massive objects, like black holes, coming together you’ll get similar ripples across space and time.
Two black holes colliding, eh? That sounds… unlikely, is it?
We know that black holes collide all the time and these collisions are big enough to see these ripples for millions of light years.
What’s surprising is that that just a few days after our newly upgraded technology had actually turned on, these ripples hit us it was.
Sort of jumping ahead, two black holes that were 20 times more massive then our sun, plunged together and the waves capsized for hundreds of millions of years and then hit earth just days after we turned on the detectors.
So that was little bit of luck and we can all be grateful because it really is one of the biggest discoveries ever made in science.
It is that fundamental, we are looking out into the the universe with fundamentally new eyes.
And it looks a little like this:
Could you give us a quick refresher on Einstein’s general theory of relativity, E=MC^2, that is?
Einstein told us that mass bends space and time and that bending in space and time actually tells mass where to go.
So if you’ve ever got a sheet and you put a ball in the middle of the sheet then you see the sheet pull down, what we are seeing something similar to that.
This theory is 100 years old and yet Einstein’s vital predication, that space time can ripple and we can have gravitational waves had yet to be confirmed.