Scientists have, for only the third time in history, detected another burst of gravitational waves.
They are essentially ripples in the very fabric of space and time itself caused by unimaginably powerful cosmic events.
This latest burst of waves is believed to have originated from the merging of two massive black holes some three billion light years away from Earth.
First predicted by Albert Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, gravitational waves are essentially a type of shockwave emanating from huge cosmic events.
In much the same way that you can create ripples in water, these huge events actually cause the fabric of space-time to bend and by using powerful lasers we can then actually detect those ripples.
This most recent event was staggeringly powerful. With masses of 31 and 9 times that of our Sun the two black holes collided and formed an even greater one that had a mass of 49 times that of our Sun.
Speaking to the BBC LIGO scientists Michael Landry said: “These are the most powerful astronomical events witnessed by human beings,”
Scientists were able to first detect these waves using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a huge observatory that consists of two 4km tunnels connected in an ‘L’ shape.
They then fire a powerful laser which is then split down the L in two directions. Mirrors are then used to bounce the light back onto a huge detecter.
Gravitational waves then distort the distances of these two beams by an incredibly small amount.
So what’s next for LIGO? While all three events captured are believed to have come from merging black holes, there are other cosmic events powerful enough to cause space-time to bend.
It is these other events that will become a focus, helping broaden our understanding of what causes them and the ramficiations of what happens afterwards.
“While LIGO is uniquely suited to observing these types of events, we hope to see other types of astrophysical events soon, such as the violent collision of two neutron stars.” explained David Reitze of Caltech, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory.
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