Tuesday, February 16, 2016

We found gravity waves and yeah it's a big deal

Last week, an astounding finding was announced in space science.

It's not just any finding. It is something that confirms aspects of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. Gravity waves have finally been detected through the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. Turns out a signal was detected from two black holes located 1.3 billion light years from Earth.

These black holes, one 36 and the other 29 solar masses, collided after orbiting one another at speeds of thousands of times per second. This had the effect of sending 5,000 supernovas worth of energy out into the cosmos as gravity waves. Such waves are literally distortions in space-time, the very fabric of the universe. Einstein predicted such ripples were possible but now the scientific community has confirmation.

It took a while. First, the technology had to be developed to detect gravity waves in the first place. Then something big has to happen in space. I mean big, like a large supernova or certainly two black holes colliding qualifies.

Right about now, I'm thinking at least a few readers may be asking the same question my students often do with a variety of subject matter: "Why should I care?" The urge to ask such a question might be doubly so given that what has been described is out in space.

Why care? Well, first of all it gives us a greater understanding of everything in the universe. That includes us in case you didn't notice. All matter and space is actually vibrating at extremely small rates. Unnoticeable to us, but it's happening and major shockwaves such as those frm the black hole collision allow us to see that. This discovery also allows us to get a better understanding of the force of gravity, something that affects us all the time. There's still a fair amount we don't know about how gravity works, especially in relation to super-massive and dense objects or objects that move at high speeds. Really, anything that opens up any greater understanding of the universe, again the place we all inhabit, is ultimately beneficial to my thinking.

Come on, we just found out space and time can warp. Isn't that cool enough?

We might, I stress might, even eventually learn how to manipulate gravity waves. Of course there are all kinds of speculations bouncing about in that regard or maybe that has more to do with my Internet circles. Does this mean time travel is possible? Could aliens use gravity waves to communicate with us? Or vice versa? Is this just part of a long line of "discoveries" meant to desensitize us for disclosure? Here's how that line of thinking goes:

1. Space and time can be warped so that might lead to practical interstellar travel. A wormhole, maybe! Yes, for all you Matthew McConaughey fans out there, that's a nod.

2. There's bacteria found on Mars or somewhere nearby.

3. Actually, there's intelligent life out there. We just found a signal. But they're far away.

4. Well, maybe they're not that far away.

5. Ok, you remember point 1? Well, they could probably get here.

I'm not agreeing with such things, but it is fun to think about. The discovery of gravity waves is sufficiently significant in its own right without having to graft anything else fantastic atop it.

Gaining a greater understanding of the cosmos is no small accomplishment.

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