Physics is celebrating!
LIGO reports the first direct detection of gravitational waves
I know, I know it is not microbiology... but I cannot bring myself to post to "In the news" today and not join in the congratulations to the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and all the researchers that have made possible the extraordinary feat of directly detecting gravitational waves for the first time.
Gravitational waves -predicted to exist by Albert Einstein 100 years ago (and again he was right, what a man!)- are ripples in the curvature of space-time that propagate as waves. Einstein’s general theory of relativity predicts that any cosmic event that disturbs the space-time continuum with sufficient force should produce gravitational waves that propagate through the Universe. In 1974, physicists Joseph Taylor and Russell Hulse inferred the existence of gravitational waves emitted by two neutron stars whirling around one another, but they had never been directly detected before. The ones detected on 14 September 2015 thanks to the sensitivity afforded by the new "advanced LIGO" originated by the collision of two black holes somewhere in the southern sky. They were detected during advanced LIGO's first observing run, talk about coming back in style!
What touches me (and, admittedly, makes me ein bisschen jealous) is the thrill of discovery. The joyous “We did it!” that David Reitze, the executive director of the LIGO Laboratory, said at a Washington DC press conference. As much as I love being an editor –and I do– I miss the eureka moments in the lab. And this is one huge eureka moment! It not only confirms Einstein’s general theory of relativity and the work of numerous other people, and underscores the importance of big infrastructures for science, but also opens the new field of gravitational-wave astronomy. Physicists now hope to use the power of such radiation to reveal unseen astrophysical objects, like the two black holes seen (heard) by LIGO, and further test general relativity as was never before possible.
A Nobel prize in the making... who will receive it is another matter, considering the number of people who clearly deserve it (imagine the author lists on those papers!). Congratulations to all involved!