'Breakthrough of the year': How gravitational waves now offer 'a new window for astronomy' (VIDEO)
Over 100 years ago, Albert Einstein predicted that gravitational waves would one day be detected from Earth, when he published his theory of general relativity in 1915. Then in February 2016, physicists using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) did just that. Science magazine has dubbed their work the “breakthrough of the year.”
Einstein’s theory states that large objects can alter the fabric of space and time, just as a rock causes ripples when dropped into a pool of water. Gravitational waves, or the ripples in spacetime, would be created when two massive objects, such as black holes or neutron stars, came into contact.
In February, the LIGO scientists detected the gravitational waves while monitoring the emergence of two black holes 1.3 billion light years away, with a combined mass 62 times that of the Earth’s sun, according to the Space Reporter.
“These waves are extremely weak, very feeble,” said Shaon Ghosh, postdoctoral research associate at the University of Wisconsin, in an interview with RT’s Anya Parampil. “To observe them, you need extremely sensitive detectors like the ones we have built in LIGO.”
Until February, the existence of gravitational waves was based merely on indirect evidence, but now there is direct evidence. And no wonder scientists are excited, as there have been efforts to detect these waves since 1972, when the first optical interferometer was developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
“This opens a new window for astronomy,” Ghosh said. “Whenever we talk about astronomy, we talk about observing the universe with light, say visible light or x-rays or radiowaves, but this opens up a new way of looking at the universe.”
“It lets us look at the parts of the systems or physical phenomena that doesn't emit light,” Ghosh added.
“We will also be able to tell how many black holes are there in the universe, in our local universe, how often the systems coalesce and how energetic the systems are,” he continued.