Slicer loves physics, and the window it opens on the cosmos and the world we inhabit [Did I mention that before? ;-)]. In my excitement, I even momentarily reverted to that old 3rd person thing...
I don't understand the maths, and have only a cursory understanding of the significance, but even that's enough to get me REALLY excited about the confirmation yesterday of the existence of gravitational waves, predicted by Einstein's Theory of General Relativity. Non-scientists please note that, alongside Quantum Theory, Microbiology Theory, and Evolutionary Theory, the scientific term Theory does not mean either a hypothesis or a speculative notion, but rather a concept which is hugely validated by existing data, and forms the best picture revealed by the existing data. Importantly scientific Theory makes predictions and these predictions can subsequently be demonstrated to be true (or false), further consolidating the Theory. General Relativity was already extensively validated and this is just further validation by confirmation of one more of its predictions.
The excitement is palpable because the discovery is comparable to the invention of optics that paved the way for telescopes and microscopes to explore and help us appreciate the wonder of the universe on a grand scale and at a microscopic level. Alternatively it could be compared to the recognition of electromagnetic radiation which encompasses visible light, infra-red, ultraviolet, x-rays, gamma rays, microwaves and radio waves. Who knows what we will be able to use this particular tool for? However, there are some clues already. The further we look out into the universe using telescopes, the further we are looking back in time because of the time it takes light to travel across the vast distances. Improved technology has reached further and further back.
There is a brick wall, however, relating to how far we can look back in time using electromagnetic radiation, as current understanding is that, prior to 380,000 years after the big bang, the universe was not transparent to photons. Nevertheless, gravitational waves are considered to have been generated by a period of inflation of space-time, a process thought to have been completed 10-32 seconds after the Big Bang, and the universe has been transparent to their propagation since then. As a result, if we can utilise gravitational waves, we may be able to look back to within 1/10... (with another 32 zeros)th of a second after the Big Bang. Given that the universe is 13.8 Billion years old, and the Earth 4.5 Billion years old, the Black Hole merger 1.3 billion years ago isn't really that far back in time :-). We can go a whole lot further with existing telescopes. However, the potential is immense. How amazing that insignificant little creatures like us get to build a few lasers, and see such amazing distances and so far back in time, as well as the opportunity to understand...
Why are we not just unconscious replicators? Evolution needn't have equipped us to do this...
"These are the days of miracle and wonder
This is the long-distance call...
The way we look to a distant constellation
That’s dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don’t cry baby don’t cry
It’s a turnaround jump shot
It’s everybody jumpstart
It’s every generation throws a hero up the pop charts
Medicine is magical and magical is art
Thinking of the Boy in the Bubble
And the baby with the baboon heart
And I believe
These are the days of lasers in the jungle
Lasers in the jungle somewhere
Staccato signals of constant information..."
How else might we represent the nature of this discovery artfully?
I couldn't aspire to do this as well as my Facebook friend & musician Peter Mulvey already has, although he misses something in his pronouncement that the poets have failed us - only up to the point that he produced this. Reproduced here with permission:
"A century ago, Einstein does the math (!) and the math says that gravitational waves create ripples in spacetime. Fifty years later, Rainer Weiss asks pragmatically: how would we detect these waves? And he (and many, many others) work it out: two and a half mile L-shaped lasers.
When space time ripples, one beam will be two and a half miles. The other beam will momentarily be two and a half miles plus or minus the width of a frickin' proton. And how do you know it's not a tree falling or a seismic shift? Build a second L-shaped array, thousands of miles away. A ripple in space time, traveling at the speed of light, would trip them both. Anything else would not. So you get your 1.5 billion dollars in grants (!), you build these things, you staff them, you listen for 10 agonizing years... and... last September, William Parker is at the controls and... we get the ping.
FROM BLACK HOLES. COLLIDING ONE POINT THREE BILLION YEARS AGO. THEY WARPED SPACETIME. IN LOUISIANA!
How very beautiful. How extraordinary. The poets fail us here. The saints fail us. There's no way to describe how profound this event is. The universe coughed up primates, and those primates built machines to know the universe. The universe is knowing itself, and we are the infinitesimal vehicle of that knowing.
Think of that the next time you're watching coverage of a Trump rally.
No seriously, go with me on this: we've always been what we are now. Nothing much changes. Every island in Polynesia is peopled because, thousands of years ago, there were a bunch of people living on them. And most of those people were gathering food, and building homes, and making love and making babies- what we all do. And some of them were singing songs and some were dreaming, and some were holding forth about what the gods intend for us, and whom the gods hate, and some of them were bloviating in a clearing and stirring up anger (that's the Trump rally)...
But some of them were standing at the water's edge, and thinking "Wait a minute. When the winds are from over there, the waves are this far apart. When the winds are from over THERE, though, the waves are much further apart. You know what.... I think there's another WORLD over there." And the built a bigger canoe, and they went. And some of them died, and some of them got to the island, and their descendants people the island, and the imaginative ones stood at another world's edge, and imagined...
It's all happening at once. And the ocean is a much bigger ocean than we ever thought. And we are beautiful, and venal, and kind and destructive and vulgar and foolish, and... and...
And William Parker and Rainer Weiss and Szabolcs Marka and so many others stood at the edge of the greatest ocean we know and they studied the waves."