Before reading this question, you should read this paper.

From what I understood, we managed to detect gravitational waves for the first time.

Is this discovery going to help us understand something we haven't understood yet? Dark matter? Galaxy movements? FTL travel? Gravity manipulation, Interstellar style?

Though I understand the discovery, I'm a little confused about what it will actually improve for science.

So, what are the doors this discovery will open ?

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ From an Astronomical perspective, gravitational waves provide us with a completely new way of gathering information on astronomical objects. Currently the only way that we can learn about objects beyond our reach is through the light they emit. $\endgroup$ – christopherlovell Feb 10 '16 at 11:28
  • $\begingroup$ @RobJeffries : I read an article yesterday in a French newspaper announcing the discovery... I am totally aware of the fact that this newspaper probably knows nothing about what it is speaking about, but I thought this was an anouncement. My bad ! $\endgroup$ – Nico Feb 10 '16 at 12:53
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ But you linked to a page that quite clearly says that there will be a press conference tomorrow. Yes, the media is awash with rumours about what will be announced. $\endgroup$ – ProfRob Feb 10 '16 at 14:31
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Since waves seem to be associated with particles, I wonder if detection of gravitational waves would infer gravitons? $\endgroup$ – Jack R. Woods Feb 11 '16 at 3:23
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Well, now it is announced! $\endgroup$ – ProfRob Feb 11 '16 at 17:19

I think the wikipedia page gives a reasonable overview of why gravitational waves give us a window on the universe that is either not observable or is complementary to the view we get from electromagnetic waves (or neutrinos).

But let's have a specific example. The potential of LIGO, as we have seen today, is to detect the gravitational wave signatures of merging black hole binaries.

The power radiated in gravitational waves strongly depends on the orbital separation of the black holes, it also depends on their masses. The frequency of the radiation will change as the black holes spiral together. The "noise" that this makes in the final few seconds as the black holes merge is the "chirp" that is detected by LIGO. Have a look (listen!) to what a chirp might "sound" like at this web page from University of Birmingham.

The exact characteristics of the chirp (duration, frequency etc.) can for instance yield the masses of the black holes and of their final configuration and may tell us about spin rates of the black holes. Yet these same mergers may produce zero electromagnetic wave signatures that could be seen by conventional telescopes.

Furthermore, because the amplitude and the frequency of the waves depend differently on the masses and distance to the GW source, these binary chirps acts as "standard candles" in a similar way to type Ia supernovae. In other words, measurements of the chirp independently gives the masses of the merging black holes and the distance to them.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.