Starts With A Bang

Gravitational waves: from discovery of the year to science of the century (Synopsis)

Two merging black holes. Image credit: SXS, the Simulating eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) project (http://www.black-holes.org).

“It’s the first time the universe has spoken to us through gravitational waves, up to now we’ve been deaf to them.” -Dave Reitze

No doubt about it: the greatest science advance of 2016 was the end of the century-long wait for the first direct detection of gravitational waves. Not only were we able to detect the inspiral and merger of two black holes from their emission of gravitational waves, we were able to do it more than once. The announcement was a 101-year-after-the-fact confirmation of one of Einstein’s greatest and most unique predictions.

The signal from LIGO of the first robust detection of gravitational waves. Image credit: Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger B. P. Abbott et al., (LIGO Scientific Collaboration and Virgo Collaboration), Physical Review Letters 116, 061102 (2016).

But the real achievement isn’t simply that these detections happened, but what becomes possible. Gravitational wave astronomy is a science in its infancy, but is poised to become rich, varied and to open a whole new window on our understanding of the Universe. This isn’t just the discovery of the year, it’s a new type of science for the 21st century.

Artist’s impression of two merging black holes, with accretion disks. The density and energy of the matter here should be insufficient to create gamma ray or X-ray bursts. Image credit: NASA / Dana Berry (Skyworks Digital).

Don’t miss out on a moment of what’s possible, and don’t miss learning about why it’s so important to make this a reality!