By Erin Matheson '18
Whether you are a frequent resident at the Keck Science Center or you do not consider yourself a science geek, the new findings on gravitational waves, confirming Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity published over one hundred years ago, are fascinating. These gravitational waves are caused by two large objects (two black holes in this case) colliding. New evidence supports theories that we, students, not only learn in the classroom, but also governs our daily lives.
The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Scientific Collaboration (LIGO) monitored a disturbance in the cosmos 1.3 billion years ago. This disturbance was the merging of two black holes 95 miles apart. These gravitational waves, which have a power 50 times greater than that of all the stars in the universe put together, vibrated a pair of L-shaped antennas in Washington State and Louisiana known as LIGO on September 14, 2016.
This evidence has been a long time coming... 1.3 billion years coming and 50 years of monitoring, in fact. The National Science Foundation spent about $1.1 billion and more than 40 years to build these laser monitoring machines.
Einstein announced his theory of General Relativity in 1915 and predicted that matter and energy distort the geometry of the universe by gravity. A violent disturbance in the universe such as exploding stars and colliding black holes could ‘jiggle’ space-time, like a mattress shaking when that sleeper rolls over, producing ripples of gravity: gravitational waves.
Scripps student Genna Gores ‘17 said, “[The discovery of gravity waves] is so cool! It opens up so much new material to study.”
I highly recommend watching the visually stunning New York Times video that puts the new evidence all together nicely.
Knowledge of and about these gravity waves will be used as a new tool as scientists continue to explore the universe according to LIGO. This means that soon, gravity waves will become a whole new research topic for Scripps students to get involved in post-graduation. It is an exciting time to be a STEM major.