Direct Detection of Gravitational Waves and Black Holes

“Now that we have the detectors to see these systems, now that we know binary black holes are out there — we’ll begin listening to the Universe.”  — Prof. Gabriela González, Louisiana State University

I was looking for something science-y to write about this week, and “fortune” smiled upon me with the announcement of something huge! (Or, as Donald Trump might say, “YUGE!!”) You may have already heard about it, but in case you haven’t heard or just haven’t followed through to read anything about it, allow me to summarize it for you and point you in the right direction for more info.

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

When Albert Einstein published his Theory of General Relativity in 1915/16, he described the universe as being woven from a “fabric” of space-time and that this fabric stretches and compresses very slightly due to gravity. His “Einstein equations” predicted waves of gravitational energy — or, “gravitational waves” — that are essentially “ripples in the fabric of space and time produced by violent events.” These phenomena have proven elusive and had only been indirectly suggested via the 1974 discovery of the first known binary pulsar.

Last year, however, that changed. Newly published research reveals that two separate labs involved with the globe-spanning LIGO (i.e., Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) Scientific Collaboration — one in Hanford, WA, and one in Livingston, LA — almost simultaneously detected actual gravitational waves, as two black holes in a binary system collided and merged. As Prof. Karsten Danzmann of the Max Planck Institute (Germany) told BBC News,

“It is the first ever direct detection of gravitational waves; it’s the first ever direct detection of black holes, and it is a confirmation of General Relativity…. We found a beautiful signature of the merger of two black holes and it agrees exactly — fantastically — with the numerical solutions to Einstein equations… it looked too beautiful to be true.”

One of the lead LIGO researchers in the UK, Prof. Sheila Rowan of Glasgow University, commented:

“The fact that we are sitting here on Earth feeling the actual fabric of the Universe stretch and compress slightly due to the merger of black holes that occurred just over a billion years ago — I think that’s phenomenal.”

Gravitational wave telescopes will help scientists detect and study the “dark” universe — i.e., things like black holes and neutron stars, which are not visible through light-based telescopes. They should also be able to probe further back in both space and time.

“The information carried on the gravitational wave is exactly the same as when the system sent it out; and that is unusual in astronomy. We can’t see light from whole regions of our own galaxy because of the dust that is in the way, and we can’t see the early part of the Big Bang because the Universe was opaque to light earlier than a certain time. With gravitational waves, we do expect eventually to see the Big Bang itself.”  — Prof. Bernard Schutz, Cardiff University

Artist's impression of black holes merging

Artist’s impression of black holes merging

Connected to this, the discovery also confirms several points about black holes that Stephen Hawking theorized, and the technology & methodology used could reveal even more black holes stretching back through history. So, all of this means “a much more detailed understanding of the birth and history of the universe & stars and consequently a much more detailed model of the origin and history of the universe.”

Einstein’s GR theory has been said to be the most accurately tested theory known to science, and this confirmation only adds to that accuracy. Finally, in case you are wondering if there is any apologetic significance for this discovery, I’ll close with comments from Dr. Hugh Ross:

“The existence of gravity waves is an important prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity. Einstein’s theory of general relativity is a critical component of the spacetime theorems which, if general relativity is a true theory, implies that a Causal Agent beyond space and time must have created our universe of matter, energy, space, and time. The gods of the non-biblical faiths create within space and time. The God of the Bible creates independent of space and time. Thus, increasing evidence for general relativity yields increasing evidence for the biblical account of cosmic creation. Therefore, all Christians can rejoice in today’s announced discovery of the direct detection of gravity waves….

Today is an exciting day for every human being, a day that reveals even more of God’s handiwork in shaping the cosmos for the specific benefit of human beings so that we humans can be endowed with all the resources we need to fulfill the purposes for which God created us.”

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