Scientists say they can now “hear the universe” at a news conference in which they confirmed they have detected gravitational waves, a landmark discovery.
WASHINGTON, D.C., UNITED STATES (FEBRUARY 11, 2016) (REUTERS) – Scientists have for the first time detected gravitational waves, ripples in space and time hypothesized by Albert Einstein a century ago, in a landmark discovery announced on Thursday (February 11) that opens a new window for studying the cosmos.
The researchers said they detected gravitational waves coming from two distant black holes – extraordinarily dense objects whose existence also was foreseen by Einstein – that orbited one another, spiraled inward and smashed together. They said the waves were the product of a collision between two black holes roughly 30 times the mass of the Sun, located 1.3 billion light years from Earth.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have detected gravitational waves. We did it,” said California Institute of Technology physicist David Reitze, triggering applause at a packed news conference in Washington.
“We can now hear the universe,” Louisiana State University physicist Gabriela Gonzalez told the news conference, touting the opening of a new era in astronomy.
After detecting the gravitational wave signal, scientists converted it into audio waves and were able to listen to the sounds of the two black holes merging.
Gonzalez played the audio at the news conference.
“Did you hear the chirp? There’s a rumbling noise and then there’s a chirp. That’s the chirp we have been looking for,”
The scientific milestone was achieved using a pair of giant laser detectors in the United States, located in Louisiana and Washington state, capping a decades-long quest to find these waves.
“What was amazing about this signal is that it’s exactly what you would expect what Einstein’s theory of general relativity would predict for two big massive objects like black holes in spiraling and merging together,” Reitze said.
Einstein in 1916 proposed the existence of gravitational waves as an outgrowth of his ground-breaking general theory of relativity, which depicted gravity as a distortion of space and time triggered by the presence of matter. But until now scientists had found only indirect evidence of their existence.
The two laser instruments, which work in unison, are known as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). They were able to detect remarkably small vibrations from passing gravitational waves. After detecting the gravitational wave signal, the scientists said they converted it into audio waves and were able to listen to the sounds of the two black holes merging. The LIEGE observatories are funded by the National Science Foundation, an independent agency of the U.S. government.
Scientists said gravitational waves open a door for a new way to observe the universe and gain knowledge about enigmatic objects like black holes and neutron stars. By studying gravitational waves they also hope to gain insight into the nature of the very early universe, which has remained mysterious.
“Until now, we as scientists have only seen warp space time when it is very calm. It is as though we had only seen the surface of the ocean on a very calm day when it’s quite glassy. We had never seen the ocean in a storm roiled in a storm with crashing waves,” Caltech physicist Kip Thorne said.
By studying gravitational waves they also hope to gain insight into the nature of the very early universe, which has remained mysterious.
The scientists said they first detected the gravitational waves last Sept. 14.