Albert Einstein was right all along when he predicted a hundred years ago the existence of gravitational waves. The confirmation on Thursday by scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) brings the world closer to time travel.
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The researchers said the waves were observed on Sept 14, 2015, at 5:51 am ET. It was discovered by LIGO detectors in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. It came from the collision of two supermassive black holes 1.3 billion years ago, reports Gizmodo.
As a result of the collision, it converted to energy – equivalent to about thrice the Sun’s mass – to a fraction of a second. It is not just black holes that cause gravitational waves. It could also be due to other energetic cosmic events such as exploding stars.
When the waves occur, it propagate through time and space by causing small tremors in atoms that compose matter. The confirmation of the gravitational waves, to be published in Physical Review Letters, comes at the 100 years anniversary when Einstein predicted the waves in his general theory of relativity in 1916.
Rainer Weiss, the man who proposed the creation of LIGO in the 1980s to detect the gravitational waves, says, “The description of this observation is beautifully described in the Einstein theory of general relativity formulated 100 years ago and comprises the first test of the theory in strong gravitation.” He continues, “It would have been wonderful to watch Einstein’s face had we been able to tell him.”
Twitter was hit in January by speculations on the discovery of gravitational waves by LIGO scientists. Lawrence Kraus, Arizona State University physicist, was the source of the leak. The second leak came on Sunday from Clifford Burgess, McMaster University theoretical physicist in Hamilton, Canada, and the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo.
Burgess sent an email to the entire department at McMaster that the two LIGO optical instruments, the interferometers, spotted the merger of black holes with the correct time delay between the two holes. Physicists use the instruments to search for infinistesimal stretching of space that occurs when a gravitational wave passes.
The basis is the signal’s statistical significance was very high and went beyond the five-sigma standard that physicists use to distinguish evidence that is strong enough to be declared a discovery, reports Science. Burgess writes that the sigma was 5.1, while the “bh masses were 36 and 29 solar masses initially and 62 at the end.”
As his Eureka moment, Burgess tweeted on Feb 3 “Woohoo” and hinted a Nobel prize could be on the way for scientists. The theoretical physicist says he shared the breakthrough news to his students because they “may be a little bored by what they are doing in class but they may be excited by this.”
The discovery could possibly speed up the time machine being built by Boyd Mallett, a physics professor at the University of Connecticut, who is working on it based on Einstein’s theory that light and matter create gravity, and if gravity could change time and light, light could create gravity and alter time.