Today’s announcement from LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory) concerning gravitational waves has rekindled excitement in the amazing predictions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. The detection of these waves provides experimental verification of Einstein’s relativity in even the most extreme circumstances, the collision of two black holes.
A gravitational wave is like a ripple that stretches space and time, moving at the speed of light. Their existence has been postulated for a hundred years, but finding them required the highest precision in experimental physics and some luck.
To stand a chance of finding these moving ripples in spacetime we need a large source of accelerating matter. The collision and merger of blackholes is one such source though there could certainly be others.
Witnessing the ripples in spacetime caused by colliding blackholes can tell us not just about relativity but also about blackhole physics and potentially the nature of the space between us and the source of such a wave.
This experiment, which confirms a theoretical prediction made by Einstein a hundred years ago shows that sometimes experimental verification of theories can take much longer than we expect but that also we can learn about the nature of the universe in so many different ways. We may well be entering an era where experimental cosmology and relativity takes over from the golden age of experimental particle physics.
This experiment is of particular interest to the strings and cosmology groups at Queen Mary where the investigation of gravity in extreme situations shows possible new links between theory and experiment.
Prof David Berman will be giving a public lecture on the discovery during British Science Week on Thu 17 Mar 18:30. Reserve your free tickets now.
image credit: EU Training Network eu-network.org