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Tigra Scientifica: Einstein substantiated

Many consider Einstein to be one of the smartest men to have ever lived. Why do so many consider him to be so intelligent? 

In his time, he revolutionized physics, and many of his ideas are continuing to come to fruition. One of his ideas was the concept of gravitational waves. For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of space-time called gravitational waves, reaching the earth following a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. 

This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window into the human understanding of the cosmos. To understand what this means we must first conceptualize just what a gravitational wave is. These waves are analogous to

ripples in a body of water. If someone drops a rock in a pond, this creates ripples on the surface of the water.

The fabric of space-time works in a similar way. 

Though gravitational waves are always produced by large events, such as two neutron stars (very small and very dense stars left after a more massive star collapses on itself) orbiting one another, this creates ripples in the universe that are large enough to detect. This shows that the universe can, under certain circumstances, bend and warp. 

This phenomenon was predicted by Einstein in his theory of general relativity. According to Einstein’s theory, two black holes orbiting one other will eventually collide and form a larger black hole. In the last second, the gravitational binding energy of these masses is released, creating gravitational waves. 

These waves were detected by devices known as Laser Interferometers in a Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory otherwise referred to as LIGO observatories. The wave amplitudes measured are smaller than the diameter of an atom, so these devices use laser interferometer patterns to detect unbelievably tiny changes. These changes represent what we now call gravitational waves. 

The detectors are located in Louisiana and Washington State and are operated by researchers at Caltech and MIT. This discovery was originally published this year in the journal, Physical Review Letters. The waves detected by LIGO were determined to have originated 1.9 billion years ago by black holes thirty times the mass of our sun. 

This not only confirms a 100 year old theory, but also opens up new frontiers in modern physics. 

One of these frontiers is the search for light confirmation of these gravitational waves. NASA satellite observatories, like Fermi and Swift, as well as many ground-based observatories, participate in these searches. “Detecting x-rays from these gravitational waves sources would revolutionize the study of black hole binaries and similar systems,” says Dr. Dieter Hartmann, a professor of Physics and Astronomy at Clemson University.

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