Sheffield physicists are the first to help detect ripples in the fabric of spacetime.
Confirming a 1915 prediction from Albert Einstein, gravitational waves have arrived at the Earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe.
The event merged two black holes, both around 100km across and more than 20 times the mass of the sun, into a single, massive black hole 1.3 billion years ago.
The mass was then turned into energy in the form of these gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves are likened to dragging your hand through a still pool of water and creating waves that spread outward. According to Albert Einstein, the same thing happens when heavy objects move through spacetime.
Einstein’s general theory of relativity explains how spacetime isn’t a void, but rather a four-dimensional “fabric,” which can be pushed or pulled as objects move through it. These distortions are the true cause of gravitational attraction.
This can be likened to taking a rubber sheet and placing a heavy object on it. That object will cause the sheet to sag around it, and if you place a smaller object near the first one, it will fall toward the larger object.
Dr Ed Daw from the University of Sheffield’s Department of Physics and Astronomy is part of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration that made the discovery.
He has been researching gravitational waves with LIGO since 1998.
“Discoveries of this importance in Physics come along about every 30 years,” he said.
“A measure of its significance is that even the source of the wave – two black holes in close orbit, each tens of times heavier than the sun, which then collide violently, has never been observed before, and could not have been observed by any other method.
“This is just the beginning.”
This is all making me surprisingly emotional. This is a Really Big Deal. It will change how we see the Universe. #gravitationalwaves
— Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) February 11, 2016