A team of physicists who can now count themselves as astronomers announced on Thursday that they had heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, a fleeting chirp that fulfilled the last prophecy of Einstein’s general theory of relativity.If correct, this is indeed a big astrophysics advance. About a billion dollars in obscure research has a positive result.
That faint rising tone, physicists say, is the first direct evidence of gravitational waves, the ripples in the fabric of space-time that Einstein predicted a century ago (Listen to it here.). And it is a ringing (pun intended) confirmation of the nature of black holes, the bottomless gravitational pits from which not even light can escape, which were the most foreboding (and unwelcome) part of his theory.
More generally, it means that scientists have finally tapped into the deepest register of physical reality, where the weirdest and wildest implications of Einstein’s universe become manifest.
Conveyed by these gravitational waves, an energy 50 times greater than that of all the stars in the universe put together vibrated a pair of L-shaped antennas in Washington State and Louisiana known as LIGO on Sept. 14.
I have just a couple of observations, as I have not read the papers.
The biggest physics a announcement of last year was the BICEP2, which was supposed to be the echo of gravity waves during the big bang. It got glowing endorsements from everyone, as proof of big bang, inflation, quantum gravity, and gravity waves. Only months later did a rival group convince everyone that they just saw some boring cosmic dust.
Next, all the talk of Einstein is a little silly. He did not even believe in gravity waves. He wrote a paper in 1936 that supposedly disproved gravity waves, and then got angry when an anonymous referee proved him wrong. He thought that he was too good to be subjected to the referee process.
Third, the LIGO experiment is an interferometer that is quite similar to the Michelson-Morley experiment that was the crucial experiment for special relativity. The MMX was trying to detect the motion of the Earth, while LIGO is trying to detect motion in another galaxy.