An international team of physicists has confirmed the existence of gravitational waves, which was first proposed by Albert Einstein about 100 years ago, marking one of the biggest astrophysical discoveries of the past century.
The news is causing waves in the scientific community. This is because it not only improves human’s understanding of how the Universe works, it also opens up a whole new way of studying it.
It’s believed that the waves will help scientists to understand how the Universe is shaped by mass.
Although the gravitational wave signal was detected on September 14 last year, it was recently announced at a press conference. Experts are already saying the discovery is a shoo-in for a Nobel Prize.
Moreover scientists have been searching for 100 years for the waves, as they are the last major prediction of Einstein’s general theory of relativity that’s yet to be confirmed.
The scientists used LIGO – the laser interferometer gravitational-wave observatory – to detect the waves.
The LIGO laboratory works by bouncing lasers back and forth in two 4-km-long pipes, allowing physicists to measure incredibly small changes in space-time.
On 14 September 2015, they picked up a relatively big change in their Livingston lab in Louisiana, what one would call a blip in the system.
Then, 7 milliseconds later, they detected the same blip with their lab in Hanford, Washington, 4,000 km away, suggesting that it had been caused by a gravitational wave passing through Earth.
In the months since, researchers have been rigorously studying this signal to see if it could have been caused by anything else.
The overwhelming conclusion is that the blip was caused by gravitational waves – the discovery has statistical significant of 5.1 sigma, which means there’s only a 1 in 6 million chance that the result is a fluke.
More so, the signal almost perfectly matches up with what scientists predicted gravitational waves would look like, based on Einstein’s theory.
The physicists were able to trace the signal back to the colliding of two black holes around 1.3 billion years ago. They said they had heard and recorded the sound of the event – a fleeting chirp, which confirmed the existence of gravitational waves.
This event was so massive that it significantly warped the fabric of space time, creating ripples that spread out across the Universe… finally reaching earth last year.
Members of the LIGO group, a worldwide team of scientists, along with scientists from a European team known as the Virgo Collaboration, published a report in Physical Review Letters on Thursday with more than 1,000 authors.
“I think this will be one of the major breakthroughs in physics for a long time,” said Szabolcs Marka, a Columbia University professor who is one of the LIGO scientists.
Several other gravitational wave observatories and detectors are scheduled to come online in the next five years, and they’ll allow us to more sensitively detect gravitational radiation.