Ripple Me This…

We’re all familiar with everyday waves of all types. There’s the Audience (or Mexican) Wave achieved when successive groups of sports fans briefly stand, yell, and raise their arms. There’s Teahupoo, which is located on the southwest tip of Tahiti and widely regarded as one of the most challenging surf breaks in the world. But do you know the most famous wave of all? You probably didn’t, because no one had ever detected its presence…until today, that is.

At a press conference in Washington D.C. on Thursday, February 11, a team of scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced to the world that they had detected, as Albert Einstein once predicted, gravitational waves. Here’s a link to a video of their official, history-making announcement:

https://theguardian.com/embed/video/science/video/2016/feb/11/we-did-it-scientists-announce-discovery-of-gravitational-waves-video

What’s the big deal, you ask? Well, the answer to that question can sound rather complex, and I could start talking about black holes, the Big Bang, the Large Magellanic Cloud, and ripples in the fabric of spacetime, but what I find the most interesting about this discovery has to do with information. Think about radio waves, for example. Radio waves can be used to send information…messages, if you will (think: radio stations in your car). But so can infrared light waves (think: fiber optics), and microwaves (think: mobile phone calls). Now consider the LIGO team’s discovery of gravitational waves. What sort of information might the gravitational waves they detected be carrying? Now, we might be able to better understand why one of the LIGO researchers called this discovery “transformational.”

“We have observed the universe through light so far. But we can only see part of what happens in the universe.” Prof Alberto Vecchio, of the University of Birmingham said, “Gravitational waves carry completely different information about phenomena in the universe. So we have opened a new way of listening to a broadcasting channel which will allow us to discover phenomena we have never seen before.”

Over a century ago Einstein predicted that gravitational waves exist, but until today, no one really knew if they were real. Surely the work of LIGO will go down as the most significant developments in science since the discovery of the Higgs particle in 2012 and, at least according to one news source, is probably on a par with the determination of the structure of DNA. One thing is for certain: the team of lead scientists at LIGO can pop open the Champagne because surely they’ve just earned themselves a Nobel Prize.

Want a little bit more background on this topic and discovery? Give the following videos a viewing…

Science News for Students

PBS Digital Studios

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About Doc Bretto

Equal parts teacher, naturalist, teacher educator, and education researcher, I have a Ph.D. in science education and nourish my soul with a steady diet of anthropology, history, and philosophy--but also with photography, gastronomy, fußball/football, and freeriding in the European Alps.
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