Science magazine has named gravitational wave discovery as “Breakthrough of the Year.”
The award followed several other accolades given earlier this year to the scientists associated with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a large-scale physics experiment and observatory that exploits the physical properties of light and space to detect and dig into the origins of gravitational waves.
What Are Gravitational Waves?
Ripples in space-time are created when an object accelerates just as a boat causes ripples in a pond. These ripples are known as gravitational waves. The concept was laid out by Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, which states that mass distorts both space and time in the same manner that a heavy bowling bowl distorts a trampoline.
“Gravitational waves are ‘ripples’ in the fabric of space-time caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the Universe,” LIGO explained.
In 1915, Einstein predicted that cosmic collisions between massive astronomical bodies would produce ripples in spacetime and these gravitational waves would be detected from Earth.
It was not until 100 years later in February this year that this prediction was confirmed when LIGO detected waves from two black holes that produced massive amounts of energy. The black holes merged 1.2 billion light years away and gained a mass 62 times more than that of the sun. Science magazine hailed this discovery as the scientific breakthrough of the year.
What Made LIGO’s Discovery Of Gravitational Wave A Scientific Breakthrough
The discovery of gravitational waves is huge not just because it validated Einstein’s prediction. It’s huge because it also launched a whole new branch of science that can help scientists learn more about the universe.
A lot of information about the cosmos remain veiled in mystery since electromagnetic radiation, which include visible light, radio waves, infrared light, gamma rays and x-rays, which are being used to study the cosmos, get scattered as they pass through space-time. A much younger universe was also opaque to electromagnetic radiation.
Gravitational waves offer researchers an entirely new way to study the cosmos. The new field of study would allow scientists to study objects and phenomena that were hidden from view, which could have significant impact on science and humanity.
“Scientists see the discovery as the birth of a new field: gravitational wave astronomy,” Adrian Cho of Science magazine wrote. “Now, physicists are eagerly anticipating what may come next, because gravitational waves promise an entirely new way to peer into the cosmos.”
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