Gravitational waves Explained

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What are gravitational waves? 

  • Gravitational waves are small ripples in space-time that are believed to travel across the universe at the speed of light. They are like tiny waves on a lake — from far away, the lake’s surface looks glassy smooth; only up very close can the details of the surface be seen. They were predicted to exist by Albert Einstein in 1916 as a consequence of his General Theory of Relativity.

What does Einstein say about gravity? 

While Sir Isaac Newton visualised gravitational force as a pulling force between objects, Albert Einstein opined it to be a pushing force due to the curvature of four dimensional spacetime fabric. The curvature of spacetime stems from the dent heavy objects produce on spacetime fabric, which can be compared to the dent one could see on a plastic sheet when a massive ball is placed.

How are these waves detected?

  • Scientists have been trying to detect them using two large laser instruments in the United States, known together as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), as well as another in Italy.

  • The twin LIGO installations are located roughly 3,000 km apart in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington.

  • Having two detectors is a way to sift out terrestrial rumblings, such as traffic and earthquakes, from the faint ripples of space itself.

  • The LIGO work is funded by the National Science Foundation, an independent agency of the U.S. government.

Why is the study of gravitational waves important? 

  • Discovery of gravitational waves would represent a scientific landmark, opening the door to an entirely new way to observe the cosmos and unlock secrets about the early universe and mysterious objects like black holes and neutron stars.

Did scientists ever detect gravitational waves?

  • Although, physics supports the existence of gravitational waves, the strength of such waves even due to astronomically heavy bodies is awfully weak to be detected.

  • On March 17, 2014, Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics erroneously claimed discovery of gravitational waves. The Harvard group, working at BICEP2 (Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarisation) telescope, had reported that they had observed a twist in the polarisation of ancient light that goes back to the time of the big bang. But within a month, studies pointed out flaws in the study.


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