Besides doing a great job of showing the relative sizes of the planets in our solar system (if not the immense distances involved), this image basically sums up my knowledge of the Universe. Modern scientists pretty much leave me in the dust with all the inferences of fact that they observe from more indirect measurements. When I think about it, what I can directly see of the Universe is what people knew 100 years ago. A part of me, in a sense, is locked in the past.
I will have to develop new ways of seeing, a point driven home by last week’s historic announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO).
No less an authority than British physicist and black hole theorist Stephen Hawking shared his excitement for the historic news: “These results confirm several very important predictions of Einstein’s theory of general relativity,” Hawking said in a BBC interview. “It confirms the existence of gravitational waves directly.”
What difference does it make? As it turns out, quite a lot.
Roughly 68% of the Universe is dark energy. Dark matter makes up about 27%. The rest—everything on Earth, all normal matter, everything ever observed with all of our instruments—adds up to less than 5% of the Universe.
These instruments use the electromagnetic spectrum (such as visible light, X-rays, infrared) to study the universe, but objects that do not radiate in the electromagnetic spectrum go unnoticed. Yet now that we know how to detect gravitational waves, there could be a paradigm shift in how we detect and study some of the most energetic cosmic phenomena. In other words, gravitational waves may open our eyes to a previously “dark” universe.
“Gravitational waves provide a completely new way of looking at the universe,” said Hawking. “The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionize astronomy.”
Groove of the Day
81° and Clear
Today is Paul Henry Gingerich’s 18th birthday; there is no new news.