We reported on the rumors yesterday, and sure enough, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, has delivered the promised results. Gravitational waves are real, we can find them, and it’s about to change a lot of what we know about the universe.
Gravitational waves are what they sound like. Whenever something with a lot of gravity, like a black hole, does something, like smash into another black hole, it creates “ripples” in space and time, like the ripples in a pond. Only these ripples are a lot harder to see: You can only spot them when they give atoms a tiny little shake. And considering any atom that isn’t at absolute zero is vibrating all the time, well, there’s a lot of noise to sort through.
So, aside from scientists nerding out, how will this affect you, the man on the street? Well, we’ll learn more cool stuff about the universe; since we now have tools for measuring gravitational waves, that means we can, for example, use this method to study the behavior of black holes. That’s especially important because there’s a lot going on in the sky between the stars we can see, but since it doesn’t give off light, we had no way to measure it until now.
It also affirms a few major pieces of Einstein’s theory of relativity, on which most modern physics is built, so that’s also good news, that we don’t have to tear down our understanding of the universe and start all over. So that’s a net positive.