Wibbly Wobbly Timey Wimey


A note on the University of Glasgow’s historic detection of gravitational waves.

So my supervision was cancelled today. It’s nothing to complain about (a free Friday afternoon is never something to complain about), but given the circumstances I think my supervisor, Professor Martin Hendry, is definitely off the hook. He’s talking to a radio station in Moscow after the announcement that two 300km-long lasers in Livingston, Louisiana have wobbled very VERY slightly.

Now this might seem pretty insubstantial – after all there are hundreds of reasons why two lasers could wobble out of alignment. The reason why just about every physicist in the world is excited right now, and the reason my supervision was cancelled, is that the 4km tubes that these lasers bounce up and down are designed to be so stable that only one thing can alter their length: Space-Time itself, the fabric of the Universe, has wobbled.

That seems ridiculous, almost as bad as Moffat-era Dr Who, but when you know that this wobble is the result of two black holes (each 30 times the mass of our Sun) spinning round each other like the couple at the start of strip the willow, yet so attracted to each other that they can’t escape and in fact merge together into a single, 60 solar mass monster; you realise it’s quite sensible that space will feel a little shaken up. So Gravitational Waves have been observed with stunning certainty and we move into a new era of Astronomy and Physics, while more than 900 LIGO scientists who’ve worked for over 14 years for this result have finally had one decent night’s sleep, before thinking up a host of new questions they need answered.

[Calum De Sainte Croix]

 

 

 

 

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