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Riled Up is a journal of science, the environment, exploration, new technology, and related commentary.  Contributors include scientists, explorers, engineers, and others who provide perspectives and context not typically offered in general news circulation.  For interested readers, additional resources are included.

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What Gravitational Waves Mean
Hugh Bollinger

What Gravitational Waves Mean

Merging Black Holes, artist concept (credit: NASA-JPL/CalTech)

The Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to three Americans for their groundbreaking work on gravity waves. Rainer Weiss of MIT as well as Kip Thorne and Barry Barish of CalTech share the prize for detection of the phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein's in his General Theory of Relativity in 1909.

The three researchers envisioned a machine, a Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory or LIGO for short, which might allow them to detect gravity waves as a "sound signal" when run through an amplifier. They focused their eventual device on the collision of two black holes more than a billion years ago in a distant galaxy. The black holes had been locked in a death spiral and merged into a single black hole releasing an explosion of energy. LIGO made the first detections of the resulting gravity waves. The possible discoveries now made possible by LIGO machines are the grist of science fiction writers.

As the Nobel Committee said in their award announcement:

"this is something completely new and different, opening up unseen worlds. A wealth of discoveries awaits those who succeed in capturing the waves and interpreting their message."

Physicist Allan Adams helps to explain LIGO and the revealed gravitational physics in a presentation where: "all the combined energy (from the black holes) was pumped into the fabric of time and space itself, making the universe explode in roiling waves of gravity."

Heavy-duty science in the making!


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