Quirks & Quarks

Gravitational waves shake the universe

Scientists working with the twin LIGO instruments have detected ripples in space-time caused by the merger of two distant black holes

The first detection of ripples in space-time

Simulation of the collision of two black holes (SXS,
Scientists working with the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatories, or LIGO detectors, in the United States, announced this week that, for the first time, they had detected gravitational waves - ripples in space time - which are a core feature predicted by Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

"It's an extraordinary amount of energy.  In terms of power, this is the most powerful astronomical event ever witnessed by humans ...   You have objects of pure spacetime coalescing and merging together, and all this energy is racing away in the shape of space - distortions of spacetime." - Dr. MichealLandry 

They determined that the waves they detected were emitted by two large black holes, each about 30 times the mass of our Sun, which spiralled into each other, and then merged into one single large black hole. This merger emitted an enormous amount of energy, as the equivalent of 3 solar masses was converted into gravitational wave energy, which then propagated across the universe.

Dr. Michael Landry, Detection Lead Scientist at the LIGO Hanford Observatory, in Washington State, was one of the first people to see the data from the detection last September. He thinks many more gravitational wave detections are in the pipeline and this should inaugurate a new era of gravitational wave astronomy. 

Related Links

- Gravitational Wave Detection papers at the Ligo Lab
- LIGO release
LIGO Lab website
LIGO Scientific collaboration
- CBC News stories - On the Detection - On the Black Holes
- Quirks & Quarks Big Science feature on LIGO
- LIGO Announcement video

Podcast Extra!

Bob McDonald and Quirks & Quarks producer Jim Lebans try to answer some listener questions from tweets and emails that arrived this week.

A supplementary discussion regarding more questions about Gravitational waves. 16:10
Download =====>