Once again General Relativity has declared a victory in the world of science. On Feb 11, 2016, scientists have officially claimed the discovery of gravitational waves, the last piece of phenomenon predicted 100 years ago by Albert Einstein when he formulated the General Theory of Relativity. This discovery is ranked as important as the one made by Galileo 400 years ago when he built the very first telescope and looked into the sky to discover that it was the sun, not the Earth being the center of the universe. We have waited long enough to witnessing this major discovery and this time it is direct evidence not just of the gravitational waves, but seeing direct evidence of binary black holes merging together some 1.3 billion years ago and confirming Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity which truly has exceeded our expectation. I must say when I first heard of it from another colleague that morning, I had doubt about it until I read it and saw the data did I become unbelievably excited with this finding. I spent practically all day looking at the data and viewing the videos and said to myself, ” Albert, what a guy.” How did he see all of it 100 years ago? He predicted exactly how gravitational waves would be discovered and that is when two giant black holes orbiting each other and merged together to release the tremendous amount of energy generating ripples in space time. He was right all along and that is exactly how we discovered it from a pair of binary black holes merged together approximately some 1.3 billion years ago.
Spacetime is a piece of fabric like a cloth. When we place heavy bowling balls on a piece of cloth, it can be bent and any other objects placed on it will follow the curvature established by the different masses. The universe is no different from the cloth as the curvature is determined by the presence of all the stars, galaxies, cluster of galaxies and even dark matter. If mass can bend space, then any mass undergoing an acceleration should produce ripples in space much like bowling balls accelerating on the piece of cloth will produce ripples on it as well as pebbles can cause ripples in the pond. These ripples are called gravitational waves and Einstein predicted it but he wasn’t sure if human would ever be able to detect it due to the weakness of the force and by the time it reaches Earth, we wouldn’t even feel it. But thanks to the development of modern day electronics technologies, the advance in material science, chemistry, civil and mechanical engineering, we were able to construct ( LIGO) which stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Waves Observatory and along with an upgrade to advanced LIGO just last Sept of 2015, scientists detected the signal and spent 5 months analyzing the significance of the signal against all other possible confounding variables if the gravitational waves wasn’t there, and the statistical data led to the “Gold Standard” for a claim of the discovery in physics, namely a 5 sigma level meaning the chance of the signal being a flute is 1 in 3.5 million. The announcement was made officially on Feb 11, 2016 at Washington DC and once again Einstein declared another victory and rocked the world of science. Scientists have been searching this signal for the past 50 years and never given up hope that someday it would be discovered, for General Relativity has passed every single test and gravitational waves is the last piece of confirmation of the theory, and today we did it. As I often say that progress made in science is incremental in nature, and this particular discovery is well worth the wait.
So where do we go from here? This is certainly not the end of physics but another new beginning for now we have the necessary tools to gain a better understanding about black holes, perhaps even the mysterious dark energy which dominates the universe. The General Theory of Relativity is now ready for more challenges, expanding the exploration to cosmic scale and preparing to answer more questions about the dark sector of the universe. These are exciting times in physics and scientists from all over the world are awaiting for more surprising as well as revolutionary discoveries in the near future. How can anyone not be thrilled with these kind of discoveries? I treasure science not just on the day when we claim a major discovery, but every day throughout the year as we prepare ourselves while on the journey. Since today is Valentine’s day, I am going to put it this way: Treasure your Valentine not just on Valentine’s day, but every day throughout the year and hopefully many more years to come in the future.
Happy Valentine’s Day to everyone.