Wavy Gravy

February 11, 2016 Feb 11, 2016

The announcement that gravitational waves have been detected is a bright science fiction-y story in a sea of crappy news.

The story from LIGO, short for the laser interferometer gravitational observatory, is all extremes, either invisibly small, like waves we cannot see that penetrate everything unperturbed, or ginormous, the "sound of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away" [1]. And the story features exotic characters like black hoes and ripples in the "fabric of space and time" [2].

These gravitational waves were detected by a new analytical instrument that was designed to measure something that had never been measured. The instrument, whose sensitivity is mind-blowing [3], monitors three things that are the same distance apart, looking for an occasional ripple in space time that would make one segment of the route just a teeny tiny bit different, and just for a moment. And this tiny difference is in the order of 10-19m.

Performing the gravitational wave experiments also involved big numbers. The paper announcing the discovery has hundreds of authors and the National Science Foundation spent $1.1b over forty years on this research, which sounds big until you compare it to the US military budget which in 2015 was almost 600-times this amount.

I'm listening to Miles Davis' Générique. C'est merveilleux.

[1] Science News .

[2] NYTimes which features a really nice video.

[3] Vibration reduction at LIGO.