The Simplified Guide to Ripples in Time and Space

By Veronica Rarick

Two black holes, each about thirty times larger than our sun’s mass, merged together causing ripples that unsettled the fabric of space. The disturbance was detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and was thus named gravitational waves back in February.

According to NASA, gravitational waves span a wide range of frequencies which require different types of technologies to detect them. A study done by the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves discovered lower frequencies could be detectable by existing radio telescopes.  

Gravitational waves have been around since Einstein’s theory of relativity in 1905. The theory predicted that gravitational waves emanate from accelerating massive objects (ie. black holes.)  

Gravitational waves are given off from pairs of supermassive black holes that orbit each other. These black holes originated at the center of separate galaxies that have since collided. They are creeping slowly toward each other and will merge eventually to create a giant black hole.

As the black holes move towards each other they causing ripples in the fabric of space, much like a water droplet creating ripples in the water. The ripples will move outward in every direction. They will shake around Earth a little bit as it moves over us though it takes years for it to do so.

“It’s the first time the Universe has spoken to us through gravitational waves. Up until now, we’ve been deaf.” Professor David Reitze, executive director of the Ligo project, told journalists at a news conference in Washington DC.

The challenge in finding gravitational waves was that centers of galaxies which  contain millions of stars and monstrous black holes are still quite small. Being able to detect the radio waves through the bright glare of all the other suns has been a challenge.

Gravitational waves provide a new way of looking at the universe–new and expansive.


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