March 24, 2020
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Scientists finally discovered gravitational waves a century after Einstein’s Theory of Relativity predicted their existence.
The answer came during a National Science Foundation news conference Feb. 11 reporting the results of new laser technology that detected the waves.
Assistant professors of physics Leslie and Madeline Wade were involved in the project as members of an international research team, collecting and analyzing data, among other duties.
The Wades hosted a viewing party in Hayes Hall of the eagerly anticipated news conference and will lead a panel discussion about the project from 3:10-4 p.m. Friday, Feb. 12, in Hayes (RBH) 109.
Gravitational waves are elusive ripples in space-time caused by the violent collisions of massive objects. The ability to observe these distortions can greatly enhance understanding of time and space and yield new information about how the universe was formed. Researchers found the waves coming from two distant black holes that smashed together.
The news conference unveiled the first results from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), an advanced detection system activated in September.
“Every time we’ve turned on a new type of telescope we have found something new and unsuspected, and this is a new type of telescope,” Madeline Wade said.
Information carried by gravitational waves will allow scientists to observe phenomena such as black holes and exploding stars in ways not possible through electromagnetic radiation and other means of study.
“They can tell us what is going on inside some of these objects, which is a whole new way of looking at the universe,” Madeline Wade said. Added Leslie Wade: “Things we couldn’t see before we might be able to see now, leading to the discovery of otherwise invisible objects.”
The Wades are members of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, a group of about 1,000 scientists from 15 countries participating in the LIGO mission. “There is a lot of excitement (about) the capability of this new detector,” Leslie Wade said.
—By Dennis Fiely