I don’t know. You don’t know. Nobody knows. They are sorta cool I guess but they don’t mean much to day to day life.
Joking of course, but the headlines would lead you to believe that gravitational waves are some impossibly complicated thing beyond our wildest comprehension that only the great Einstein could understand so us lowly plebs should stick to our mundane lives and ignore one of the biggest scientific breakthroughs in a very long time. Either that or trying to tell us that the world is going to end when one of these waves passes earth and sends us all into massive earthquakes…
Like a big cosmic pebble thrown into a big cosmic pond, gravitational waves are the echoes of aeons old cataclysmic events that have happened over the course of the life of the universe.
That’s it, it’s that simple! So why the big ruckus over something so simple?
Well we have known about these waves since Einstein first theorised them about a hundred years ago. The difficult task, as with most scientific endeavours, is being able to actually observe and study them.
Until now, they have been purely theoretical, not officially ‘’real’’. For something to be recognised as ‘’real’’ it has to be proven via the scientific method, which these days is fairly straight forward.
That, dear friends, is where the problem lies for gravitational waves, and why this breakthrough is so important. You see, the breakthrough is not the discovery of gravitational waves, it is in the proving of their existence, and this research has been going on since Einstein first theorised them and has only now been able to materialise in a breakthrough thanks to advancement in technology.
Gravitational waves are very hard to detect because they are so tiny. Trying to detect the remnant of a wave of two black holes colliding billions and billions of years ago is essentially the cosmic equivalent of trying to get a 4G signal on your phone in the middle of Larne/Lurgan/Ballymena/Coleraine (delete as appropriate or insert your own technological backwater here). In short, not an easy task, but achievable with the right bit of kit (or waving your phone above your head).
So why is it so important if its just a wee ripple of something that happened ages ago? Well because this gives scientists a new way to look at the universe. Until now, light and radiation were the really the only ways to look at things far away but gravitational waves gives us a new metric to use. Like light from far away galaxies taking millennia to get here to show us things that happened to those galaxies millennia ago, gravitational waves give us a unique insight into to do the same sort of thing but using changes in space-time instead of light. Most importantly, with the right bit of kit, scientists can look back far enough to ‘see’ the big bang (or whatever happened at the start of the universe).
To those who were involved in the project, fair play, because the hard work that has been put in to this breakthrough is very much deserving of the Nobel prize they will all probably be sharing later this year, and a big thank you to them for breaking down this extremely complicated topic in a way that we can easily understand.
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