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How Scientists Detected Gravitational Waves From A 1 Billion-Year-Old Black Hole Collision

A tiny little woop is being called one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the past century. It’s the astounding sound of two black holes colliding, a heavenly cataclysm that happened 1 billion years ago, releasing.

Here’s why there’s so much excitement: gravitational waves. They’re ripples in space-time theorized by Einstein a century ago, but they’ve never been directly observed, until now.

Guests

Dr. Nergis Mavalvala, associate department head of physics at MIT, which tweets @MIT_Physics.

Dr. Scott Hughes, professor of physics at MIT.

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The New York Times: Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves, Proving Einstein Right

  • “A team of physicists who can now count themselves as astronomers announced on Thursday that they had heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, a fleeting chirp that fulfilled the last prophecy of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
    That faint rising tone, physicists say, is the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago. And it is a ringing (pun intended) confirmation of the nature of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits from which not even light can escape, which were the most foreboding (and unwelcome) part of his theory.
    More generally, it means that scientists have finally tapped into the deepest register of physical reality, where the weirdest and wildest implications of Einstein’s universe become manifest.”

WBUR: In Milestone, Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves As Black Holes Collide

  • “According to a paper published in the journal Physical Review Letters, the two black holes were each roughly 30 times the mass of the sun. They merged some 1.3 billion light years from Earth. The waves were generated in the final moments before the black holes merged. The signal was brief but definitive.”

Astrobites: Opening Our Ears To The Universe: LIGO Observes Gravitational Waves!

  • “Though gravitational waves are invisible, they do have a measurable effect on the space they travel through by causing distances to shrink and stretch. That is where the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) comes in. The LIGO detectors in Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington utilize laser light as a very precise stopwatch to measure this effect.”

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