About three weeks ago an obscure discovery was announced. American scientists working at LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) confirmed Einstein’s 100 year old theory.
Gravity waves are hard to explain because they are confusing, and rely on a basic understanding of a lot of other confusing things. Exactly 100 years ago Einstein’s general theory of relativity imagined that space was like a giant sheet of permeable linen upon which indentations are made by massive objects. Imagine the sun as a bowling ball creating a crater on a sheet into which other objects sink. This is how Einstein imagined gravity. The earth is a cricket ball that falls towards the sun and the moon is a marble that falls toward the Earth.
Einstein did not stop there. During a very high energy event he imagined ripples, or waves, of gravity cascading through the fabric of the universe. It’s like a pebble creating ripples in a pond, or someone pinching the sheet of linen down from beneath so it is taut and then releasing it suddenly. Einstein did a whole lot of maths that suggested these waves would exist when, for example, two black holes were spinning into each other. Now LIGO have proved him right.
At this point I was going to try and explain how these waves were detected but it’s difficult and I can’t rely on bedding metaphors. You should look their experiment up on the internet; it’s cool and it involves lasers. But why should you care about these seemingly obscure and esoteric discoveries?
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Because someday gravity waves may provide a new lens to view the universe through. In some cases using gravity as a foundation of explanation may supersede the use of light, as gravity, unlike light, is not blocked by objects that stand in the way—there are no shadows. But these discoveries also remind us of how complicated and enigmatic the universe is. They highlight the tenacity of human curiosity, and how the creative and driven people of our planet further our collective wisdom.
Finally, LIGO has given us more proof that Einstein was a total badass. Remember this is the same dude who was a pacifist and mates with Ghandhi, and said cheesy things like “you can’t blame gravity for falling in love” and “look deep into nature and then you will understand everything better.”