Gravitational Waves help us understand the Universe.

The scientific story of 2016 was the announcement of the detection of Gravitational waves, the compression and stretching of space by Ligo (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory).

Much of the publicity of the event centred on how it proved Einstein right as he had theorised abut them as a consequence of the General Theory of Relativity (GTR). To have done so reveals our need for a human story, even when dealing with complicated scientific theories and the continued fascination with Einstein, the man, his work and his legacy.

There was something very profound about the detection of Gravitational Waves, beyond its verification of the GTR. As Marcus Chown explains in his recent book, The Ascent of Gravity it is β€œthe most important development in astronomy since the invention of the telescope in 1608”. We are no longer restricted to seeing; now we can hear the universe. A whole new sense has opened up for us when it comes to understanding the universe.

It appears to me that we are already beginning to see the consequences of the discovery of Gravitational Waves.

In June the third detection by the Ligo team hinted that this observation may help to an understanding of dark matter. The mass of the circulating black holes that collided to create the waves detected suggests they were formed not from collapsing stars, but from patches of material. It is a long stretch, but this may be the start of the hunt for dark matter.

More recently a paper published by the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam suggests that the detection may help to prove string theory. The theory (there are many competing versions) says that particles are strings which vibrate to create the forces of nature. The theories are dependent on at least six extra dimensions. The paper says that string theory predicts that the ripples caused by the collisions of black holes that cause the gravitational waves detected by Ligo also cause ripples through the extra dimensions, which would create an effect on the gravitational wave. If that effect can be detected then it supports string theory.

Slowly but surely the discovery of gravitational waves is causing the radical impact on physics and our understanding of the universe that was predicted. Einstein, once again is the beacon we use to shine on the dark universe and decipher its meaning.

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