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The State of The Universe

May 6, 2016

Einstein was one of the most brilliant minds of the twentieth century; being a physicist and mathematician, he produced revolutionary theories looking at time, space, matter, energy, and gravity. Today, the one of the most prolific scientific theories is Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. Get ready to science.

Albert Einstein: theorist, mathematician, and

Albert Einstein: theorist, physicist and mathematician.

Einstein’s Theory of Relativity has to do with the gravitational waves that soar through space. To understand gravitational waves, it’s best to first understand the space-time continuum. Einstein’s theory makes a connection between space and time. To do this, he calculated the speed of light, (about 300,000,000 meters per second) and applied the laws of physics. Combining the two observations, he realized that the faster an object moves or the closer they get to the speed of light, the slower time is. People move incredibly slow in comparison to light, so it is unlikely you’ll ever notice a difference on the speed of your watch while flying in an airplane.

However, scientists have proven that time moves slower for faster objects by placing atomic clocks in high-powered rocket ships. When the ships returned, the scientists found that the clocks were slightly behind the ones on Earth. Gravitational waves are giant ripples in the fabric of space and time caused by significant events, like black holes merging.

gravitational-waves-simulation

Diagram of gravitational waves from space.com.


Imagine the universe is a giant ocean; some depth are more mysterious than others, and waves move in all directions. Time in this scenario are the waves of water, constantly being stretched and moved by gravity at the speed of light. This was undetectable to humans, until now.

Scientists decided that the best way to detect unknown, unseen gravitational waves would be to make an enormous machine. Therefore, they created the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). LIGO is designed to detect the tiny differences in time that gravitational waves create while moving through the planet. By measuring the time it takes for two lasers to hit a detector, they were able to discover a tiny difference. 

The LIGO Laboratory operates near Hanford in eastern Washington.

The LIGO Laboratory operates near Hanford in eastern Washington.

Mrs. Weeks, Astronomy teacher at Waukee High School quotes, “As space and time are expanding and contracting around us, the laser beam will stretch and compress, and that’s what they found.”

The significance behind gravitational waves lies in both the future and the past. Weeks noted,  “As these black holes have merged billions of years ago, space-time is being impacted around us now. When we are looking out into the universe we see back in time.”

However, most technology, which is based on light, can only go so far back because the light has not reached the Earth yet. That’s where gravitational waves really come in because they can be detected by LIGO, unlike light which is detected by the naked eye.

Weeks continued, “Gravitational waves can be detected farther out than we have ever seen, so they are predicting that we can see objects that happened close to the Big Bang… We can actually hopefully feel the Big Bang’s gravitational waves. We have always used optical astronomy, but now they’re using radio frequency, they’re using x-ray frequency, they’ve used gamma ray frequency. But now they can look at gravitational waves that allow us to go into further into space.”

A dying star is throwing a cosmic tantrum in this combined image from NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope and the Galaxy Evolution Explorer. This is similar to the explosion of the Big Bang Theory.

A dying star is throwing a cosmic tantrum in this combined image from NASA’s Spitzer Space Telescope and the Galaxy Evolution Explorer. This is similar to the explosion of the Big Bang Theory.

This helps scientists understand the laws of the universe better, helping confirm Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the understanding of gravitational waves. This in turn helps scientists receive new and better insight to the events that produced the gravitational waves. It opens up much more options and reality for observing and exploring space. Weeks concluded, “I think it’s important that it will help us not end the debate about our existence in our universe but confirm it.”

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