Astronomers giddy due to likely gravitational waves confirmation

10 Feb 2016

After a month of speculation, it’s looking likely now that the discovery of gravitational waves will be officially announced, and that’s a big deal for astrophysics and astronomy.

The discovery of gravitational waves in the universe was first suggested last month following a surprising tweet from theoretical physicist and cosmologist Laurence M Krauss, which said that independent analysis had confirmed the cosmic phenomenon’s existence, but it had yet to be universally accepted by the science community.

To put this in context, the mere existence of gravitational waves in science is being described by theoretical physicists like Krauss as being the dawn of “a new era in astronomy and physics”, with the waves having first been theorised by the one-and-only Albert Einstein.

First suggested in his theory of relativity, gravitational waves were believed to be the result of extreme cosmic events like the collision of two black holes, or the birth of a supernova and, if they are proven to exist, it will provide an opportunity to measure the origin of the universe in a completely new way.

The findings were made using the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), which is considered the most powerful cosmic detector in the world, capable of measuring changes in spacetime at the level of 1/1000 diameter of a proton.

Look behind the murky, black curtain

More specifically, AFP says, gravitational waves will let us look beyond the curtain, so to speak, of how black holes behave or how fusion works within neutron stars.

In terms how much of a ‘cosmic shift’ this discovery will be – if confirmed – it would allow astronomers, for the first time, to see the universe in greater detail, rather than having to rely on visible or ultraviolet light.

“These waves are streaming to you all the time and, if you could see them, you could see back to the first one trillionth of a second of the Big Bang,” said NASA’s Gravitational Astrophysics Lab chief, Tuck Stebbins, to AFP.

To add even greater emphasis, he added that “we stand at a threshold of a revolutionary period in our understanding, our view of the universe.”

As for the announcement itself, well, the odds are that it will be a day to remember for theoretical physicists and astronomers as three simultaneous conferences are scheduled to take place in the US, the UK and France tomorrow (11 February).

Gravitational waves illustration via Llacertae/Flickr

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic