Gravtitational waves spotted: Starman Einstein gives a thumbs up from the skies above

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Remember those scenes from Christopher Nolan’s ‘Interstellar’ which demonstrated time slow down phenomena in a planet which fell within the gravitational field of the supermassive black hole – ‘Gargantua’?

Image Courtesy: Facebook
Image Courtesy: Facebook

Ripples or distortions in space-time fabric due to gravitational waves would cause such a phenomena and this was elaborated by Albert Einstein in 100 years back in his theory of General Relativity. The massive slow down of time on planet kept the exploration team young while rest of the crew in the space craft – ‘Endurance’ became decades older to them by the time they arrived back from the planet.

Though this remained to be just a theory during the last 100 years, for the first time in the modern scientific era, researchers have actually spotted gravitational waves undulating through large swathes of universe.

It is considered to be one of the most remarkable achievements in the world of science as it would open up a whole new arena of universe to science. By analysing gravitational waves, very early events associated with the origin of universe and subsequent evolution could be deciphered to match human intellect.

The gravitational waves tracked by the researchers originated following a collision of two intermediately sized black holes at a distance of some 1.3 billion light years away from earth. The signals were picked up by two giant laser detector units of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) located in Louisiana and Washington states of United States.

According to Einstein’s theory, cataclysmic occurrences in Universe, such as explosion of stars, collision of black holes, could generate warps in space time fabric. As the magnitude of such events would be infinitely high, distortions in space time would able to traverse large swathes of universe for millions of years.

Image Courtesy: Facebook
Image Courtesy: Facebook

However, such ripples would have only a diameter close to one billionth of an atom by the time they reach earth. And that is precisely why it took so long for the researchers to track the gravitational ripples.

Story behind the achievement

The gravitational wave was discovered on September 14, 2015. Scientists in Louisiana lab of LIGO observed a relatively bigger change in their readings.

However, they could not rule it out as a mere blip in the system as the same same change was recorded in LIGO’s Washington observatory which is 4000 km away from the former. The time gap between the recordings happened to be 7 milliseconds and that suggested the passage of a gravitational wave through earth.

Scientist who inferred the phenomena calculated the statistical significant of the event to 5.1 sigma, ie; possibility of the event to be unlikely is just one in six million. Thus a breakthrough was confirmed.

Scientists at LIGO converted the recorded gravitational signal to audio waves. And enabled them to listen to the sound of  a spectacular event in the Universe. Yes, the sound of black holes spiralling around one another and the sound of their final collision!

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