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Gravitational waves discovered: scientists explain why it is such a big deal

Historic beauty. NASA/ESA/wikipedia commons

It’s one of the biggest scientific discoveries of modern times. Scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced that they had detected gravitational waves for the first time.

For decades, physicists have been trying to prove the existence of the elusive waves, first proposed by Albert Einstein a century ago. They even thought they’d finally found them two years ago – only to be left deflated once they realised the signals detected by the BICEP2 telescope were actually due to cosmic dust. This time though, it does look like they’ve done it.

But isn’t gravity a force that keeps us grounded? How can it be waves? Why are scientists making such a big deal out of this?

The answers to these questions are mindblowing and go to the very core of our understanding of what constitutes space and time. Here’s why:

A simple analogy to understand gravitational waves and why they matter Drop a ball while you’re standing on a trampoline and it’ll roll to your feet. The same logic explains space-time.

How we made the discovery: the inside story. Martin Hendry tells the story about how a consortium of UK institutions, led by the University of Glasgow, played a key role developing, constructing and installing the sensitive mirror suspensions at the heart of the LIGO detectors that were crucial to the detection.

How does the LIGO experiment actually work? Find out from a team member It took a marvel of engineering and physics to detect them. Yes, that involves lasers.

The discovery can help us “sense” the universe in a new way – here’s how We’ve been looking at the universe by detecting a broad range of electromagnetic waves. Detecting gravitational waves is an entirely new way of comprehending space that can help us “see” black holes and other violent events.

What happens when LIGO texts you it’s detected one of Einstein’s predicted gravitational waves? More LIGO inside news from Chad Hanna, assistant Professor of Physics, Pennsylvania State University.

Gravitational waves discovered: the universe has spoken David Blair, the director of the Australian International Gravitational Research Centre, gives us his take of the discovery and argues it provides an opportunity and responsibility for educating the public.

Debunking some myths about gravitational waves you’ll probably come across soon The waves don’t come from the early universe nor do they “prove” the Big Bang.

Explaining space-time and gravitational waves to 11-year-olds This scientist has been teaching primary school students about space-time, explaining how gravity is a consequence of time being warped by matter. Sounds complicated? Don’t worry, he knows what he’s talking about.

For the adventurous: everything you’d want to know about gravitational waves If you’ve got the basics covered, this is the complete overview you need from a range of experts commenting on the announcement.