You may have heard in the news about a recent breakthrough in gravitational wave research. So what was it? And why is it such a big deal?
To find out what it is all about I went to a lecture conducted by Prof Nial Tanvir and Dr Phil Evans who were, along with several other University of Leicester staff, deeply involved in this recent discovery. However, this was truly an international discovery with scientific groups from all around the world working together to make this discovery.
I talked about the first gravitational wave discover from a few years ago in my last blog. So what is so different about this latest discovery? Well, just as before LIGO detected a gravitational wave, but there was also two other observations made: The Fermi and INTEGRAL spacecraft detected a gamma ray ray burst (I talked about these in a previous blog), and numerous telescopes in a multitude of wavelengths observed the after glow of the neutron stars that had collided (the neutron stars are what caused the gravitational waves as they spun around each other before crashing into one another).
This discovery was of huge scientific importance, and I think the best way to prove this is in a list:
- It is the first ever observed kilonova.
- It is the strongest evidence to date to confirm that merging binary stars cause short gamma-ray bursts.
- It improved evidence of Einstein’s hypothesis that the speed of gravitational waves is the same as the speed of light. The discovery also excluded some of the alternative theories to Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
- With more discoveries like this we may redefine value of Hubble’s constant.
- It supports the theory that merging neutron stars are the site of a process called r-process nucleosynthesis which produces the heaviest elements in the universe.
Here is a video by Veritasium who talks about the discovery in more detail.
This is the sort of physics that most excites me, I’m excited to see what more there is to learn, and hopefully one day in the future be able contribute to this field.
To read about this in more detail and to find out how the University of Leicester contributed to this ground-breaking research click here for the official press release. In this press release the University of Leicester staff involved talk in more detail about the discovery and its scientific importance. It is well worth a read!
“When gravitational waves reach the earth, the waves stretch and squeeze space. This is a tiny stretch and squeeze. Far too small to detect with ordinary human senses.”