Detecting Baby Waves


In Einstein’s theory of general relativity, he said that massive objects moving at incredible speeds, or giant objects’ gravity interacting could cause ripples in the space-time fabric, known as gravitational waves. They had been searched by scientists for years, and they had successfully hidden, but not anymore.

A series of experiments taking place in the South Pole have finally provided the scientific community with a solid detection of these elusive waves. The project, called BICEP2, has released its findings today, and are awaiting further revision for official publication.

gravitational echo

The graph showing the primoridal gravitational waves when first detected.

There has been a lot of excitement over these waves, because they are able to prove one of the most popular theories regarding the birth of our universe: inflation. The theory, suggested by physicist Alan Guth, says that a few moments after the universe was created, it suffered a dramatic increase in size (by a factor of 1078). After this, its expansion rate slowed down considerably.

What’s important is that if this theory was correct, the sudden growth would have caused ripples in the space-time, hopefully strong enough for us to detect.

And this is what this amazing team has done. They have detected the gravitational waves that were given off during the expansion, given the fancy name of primordial gravitational waves.

The results are impressive just by themselves. The fact they have caught these waves is already world-changing, but there are even more interesting details that deserve our attention.

The waves they found were stronger than they thought they could be, which leads to a rethinking of the current inflation theory. There are some ‘sub-theories’ that can explain this fact, so many eyes are turning towards these and reconsidering them for answers.

But if there’s something we’ve learnt after all these years is to remain cautious after big discoveries (incredible stem cell method not that incredible after all?). The findings have yet to be backed up by other experiments from other teams, but overall there is a positive feeling towards this data.

If they were to be true, they would prove inflation to be true once and for all, but they could also prove useful in completing quantum mechanics. This field is very effective when working with subatomic particles, but when you add gravity, it all goes to rubbish. An understanding of gravitational waves could be useful and could help scientists find that key they need to wrap it all up.

 

Check out BICEP2’s official website:

http://www.cfa.harvard.edu/CMB/bicep2/science.html

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