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Friday
Feb192016

Momentous Event

 


I don’t dedicate much space to reporting scientific happenings as the whole world already does a reasonable job, but sometimes, something happens that can’t go unmentioned.

This week an event was reported that happened 1,300 million years ago that carries the imagination vastly beyond human experience.  Two huge masses, each around 30 times that of our solar system, each of incredible density for they were around 100 miles across, began to merge.  Separated by 100 miles, they swirled around one another 100 times per second at half the speed of light.  They spiralled inwards and in a thousandth of a second became one, releasing the energy of 100 times all of the stars in the Universe.  This energy travelled as gravitational waves rippling uninterrupted through space and time.

One hundred years ago, Albert Einstein predicted such waves. Twenty two years ago we began to build a great detector of tremendous accuracy. On September 14, 2015, the waves reached Earth.  The brief waving signal revealed a minute distortion in space-time of 1/1000th of the diameter of a proton and matched our predictions of such an event immaculately.

 

Figure: The merger event and beneath it, the corresponding signal detected as a distortion in space-time over 1.3 billion years later.  

Source - Physical Review Letters.