The Nobel Doesn’t Mean Gravitational Wave Astronomy Is Over; It’s Just Getting Good (Synopsis)
“Wormholes are a gravitational phenomena. Or imaginary gravitational phenomena, as the case may be.” -Jonathan Nolan
Yes, we detected gravitational waves, directly, for the first time! Just days after Advanced LIGO first turned on, a signal of a 36 solar mass black hole merging with a 29 solar mass black hole gave us our first robust, direct detection of these long-sought waves, changing astronomy forever. Einstein’s General Relativity was validated in a whole new way, and over 40 years of work on developing and building LIGO was vindicated at last.
The inspiral and merger of the first pair of black holes ever directly observed. The total signal, along with the noise (top) clearly matches the gravitational wave template from merging and inspiraling black holes of a particular mass (middle). Image credit: B. P. Abbott et al. (LIGO Scientific Collaboration and Virgo Collaboration).
Now, it’s two years later, and yes, some of the most important team members have been awarded physics’ highest honor: the Nobel Prize. But gravitational wave astronomy isn’t over now; on the contrary, it’s only just beginning in earnest. With a third detector now online and two more coming along in the next few years, we’re not only poised to enter a new era in astronomy, we’re about to open up a whole new set of discoveries that would otherwise be impossible.
This three-dimensional projection of the Milky Way galaxy onto a transparent globe shows the probable locations of the three confirmed black-hole merger events observed by the two LIGO detectors—GW150914 (dark green), GW151226 (blue), GW170104 (magenta)—and a fourth confirmed detection (GW170814, light green, lower-left) that was observed by Virgo and the LIGO detectors. Also shown (in orange) is the lower significance event, LVT151012. Image credit: LIGO/Virgo/Caltech/MIT/Leo Singer (Milky Way image: Axel Mellinger).