Physicists Umberto Cannella and Daniel Whiteson explain what gravitational waves are and why they'll cause a big ripple in our understanding of the Universe. (Credit: PHD Comics)
Gravitational waves are a key prediction of general relativity, a theory proposed by Albert Einstein in 1915 that is still our best explanation for the force of gravity. Einstein pictured space and time as interwoven aspects of the same underlying reality, known as space-time. Objects that possess mass, such as stars and planets, warp space-time much like how a heavy ball placed on a trampoline creates a bowl-like depression around itself. This curvature in the space-time trampoline, so to speak, is experienced by all matter in the universe as the force of gravity. Whenever any mass moves, it generates gravitational waves that ripple through space-time like ripples radiating across a pond's surface. For these waves to be big enough to detect, however, extraordinarily massive, astronomical objects are required, such as accelerating black holes or neutron stars. The ability to measure the strength and frequency of gravitational waves is important because such measurements would provide vital details about the distant, exotic phenomena that produced them.
Two winners of the 2016 Kavli Prize in Astrophysics, Kip S. Thorne and Rainer Weiss, discuss the impact of discovering gravitational waves with the enormous detector they spent more than 40 years developing.
Three principal researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO)—Nergis Mavalvala, Rainer Weiss and Matthew Evans—reflect on the epic discovery of gravitational waves and how it will transform the way we see the cosmos.
The latest data release from the Planck space telescope offers insight into everything from the fabric of space to dark matter – and may even have a shot at detecting gravitational waves, says Kavli Institute for Cosmology Director George Efstathiou.
Scientists have announced we may now have the first “smoking gun” evidence that the universe expanded with unmatchable speed in its earliest moments. Three theoretical physics consider the implications of this stunning development.
Central to the science of cosmology is the zeal to build better time machines. These are not designed literally to travel to the distant past, of course, but to get a better look at it. The latest of these is the Planck Surveyor satellite.
To get to the South Pole, first take a commercial flight to Christchurch, New Zealand, then catch a special military flight to McMurdo Station, a large outpost on the Antarctic coast. From there it's a three-hour flight to Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.