Last year, the detection of gravitational waves caused ripples across the entire scientific community. It was heralded as the discovery of the century, not just because it was incredibly difficult to do, it also proved one of Einstein's fundamental theories.
So, what are gravitational waves?
A gravitational wave is a ripple in the fabric of space and time. That's right, the fabric of space and time.
If you imagine our Sun and planets are resting on a big plastic sheet. The sheet is the fabric of space. The Sun and planets are going to distort that fabric because they have mass.
I don't have planets. But I do have a big light and some Lego superheroes. And cling film.
As you can see, the light (Sun), Lego superheroes (planets) are distorting the space-time (cling film). When they move, ripples are caused. These ripples are gravitational waves.
The more massive the moving object, the bigger the distortions in space-time.
In other words, the more massive the moving object, the bigger the gravitational waves.
Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves some 100 years before they were detected as part of his General Theory of Relativity. Even he thought they would never be detected.
Why are gravitational waves so difficult to detect?
Gravitational waves only stretch space by a tiny, tiny amount.
They get lost in the noise of the universe.
To detect them, you need one of the most precise and largest experiments in the history of scientific endeavour.
LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, is this experiment. It discovered gravitational waves after decades of work
If you want to find out more about gravitational waves and the LIGO experiment this video from PHD comics is absolutely fantastic:
What is Sunday Science?
Hello. I'm the freelance writer who gets tech. I have two degrees in Physics and, during my studies, I became increasingly frustrated with the complicated language used to describe some outstanding scientific principles. Language should aid our understanding - in science, it often feels like a barrier.
So, I want to simplify these science sayings and this blog series "Sunday Science" gives a quick, no-nonsense definition of the complex-sounding scientific terms you often hear, but may not completely understand.
If there's a scientific term or topic you'd like me to tackle in my next post, fire an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or leave a comment below. If you want to sign up to our weekly newsletter, pop your email in the form below - thanks!
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