It gives us a new and different tool to explore space. Let’s put it in context.
Up until now we have used light waves to study our universe. Light comes in frequencies- think different colors. We have visible light we can see made up of the colors of the rainbow, but there is also infrared- heat- we can feel but cannot see. On the other side of the rainbow of colors is ultraviolet that gives us a sunburn. We can feel the effects of it too, but again we cannot see it.
But the light spectrum doesn’t stop in either direction, it’s spectrum goes on. It’s called the electromagnetic spectrum. Beyond infrared are microwaves- yep like in a microwave oven, and radio waves. On the ultraviolet side are X rays and gamma rays. All light travels in waves- like sound waves do through air, or ocean waves do through water. You cannot see sound with your eyes but you sense it with your eardrums. We have telescopes that use visible light to see things, and we use radio telescopes to “see” things invisible to our eye because they are from radio waves.
This new discovery is from a new type of “telescope” not one that uses light, but one that sees ripples in gravity.
It “hears” the distortion caused from a gravity wave.
A gravity wave consists of a wave traveling through space-time. Though space looks empty, it is not empty. Space itself has a presence. True, light travels through space too but this is very different.
This wave ripples space- and with it, time. Light does not do that, it passes right through space time without affecting it.
When you shake your sheet while making your bed, you send a ripple down the sheet. When something REALLY big, or something with a massive gravity pulses, either because it collided with another thing like it, – like the two colliding black holes they measured- or some other occurrence, the ripple moves through space like a massive wave- because it IS a massive wave.
Like light, gravity weakens under something called the inverse square law. If you double the distance away, it is one-fourth as strong, not half as strong. Light follows the same law.
The gravity wave that hit us is very small because the effect on space is tiny here. But we finally detected one.
So what’s the bottom line? Why is this so special? Because more sensitive detectors will be able to detect many more gravity waves out there, some perhaps, from the Big Bang. We now have a new way to explore our whole universe. We will be able to find things we cannot see with light or measure new things- some are yet undiscovered – and confirm they are really there.
Look at what Hubble has allowed us to visibly see. Here is a new technology that will allow us to “see” or “hear” what we have never seen before- just in a different way.
We will learn a lot of new things!
So what are your thoughts? What do you think they might find in the future?
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