Are you high, guys? I would highly, highly recommend you ingest some weed before trying to process this shit, because I’ve been reading articles about it all day and the best response I can formulate to it is “ZUH?”
But it’s apparently a hella big deal.
Scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) observed, for the first time ever, gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of Spacetime that were predicted to exist over 100 years ago by Albert Einstein (See NASA’s Tumblr for a more in-depth explanation). To summarize:
Pretty smart dude, that dude. It’s a massive discovery, because it essentially confirms that Einstein’s theories about how the universe works are correct and that our standard model of physics is accurate.
The gravitational waves observed came from the collision of two black holes, long ago. Like, 1.3 billion years ago. From The New York Times:
One of them was 36 times as massive as the sun, the other 29. As they approached the end, at half the speed of light, they were circling each other 250 times a second.
And then the ringing stopped as the two holes coalesced into a single black hole, a trapdoor in space with the equivalent mass of 62 suns. All in a fifth of a second, Earth time.
Lost in the transformation was three solar masses’ worth of energy, vaporized into gravitational waves in an unseen and barely felt apocalypse. As visible light, that energy would be equivalent to a billion trillion suns.
And yet it moved the LIGO mirrors only four one-thousandths of the diameter of a proton.
According to Slate, that one collision released the same amount of energy as the Sun would in 15 trillion years. All at once.
But how the hell can scientists observe something invisible from some long ago? Impossible, right? Well, no, says the Washington Post. You just need very, very, very, very precise lasers.
LIGO detects gravitational waves by looking for tiny changes in the path of a long laser beam. In each of the lab’s two facilities, a laser beam is split in two and sent down two perpendicular tubes 2.5 miles long. Each arm of the beam bounces off a mirror and heads back to the starting point. If nothing interferes, these two arms recombine at the starting point and cancel each other out.
But a photodetector is waiting in case something goes wrong. If the vibration of a gravitational wave warps the path of one of the lasers, making the two beams almost infinitesimally misaligned, the laser will hit the photodetector and alert the scientists.
There are two separate LIGOs, one in Washington and one in Louisiana, to confirm that anything that happened was happening on a large scale and not, say, the rumbling of a nearby train that throws one laser off balance.
These two both, on September 14th, observed gravitational waves. They announced their presence as a short chirp, a sound wave you can hear here.
Like I said, this is all mind-blowing and confusing as hell, but scientists believe it will open up an entire new frontier in the exploration of the universe, helping astronomers observe objects in space that don’t emit light.
Now who needs another bong rip?
[Way thanks to the much smarter people who wrote the above articles]