The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced today, May 26, 2016, that it has made the first ever direct detection of gravitational waves – ripples in the fabric of spacetime – one hundred years after Albert Einstein’s 1915 theory of general relativity predicted them. First detected last September, these gravitational waves were produced during the final fraction of a second of the merger of two black holes to produce a single, more massive spinning black hole, an event estimated to have occurred 1.3 billion years ago.
“According to Einstein’s theory, a pair of black holes orbiting around each other lose energy through the emission of gravitational waves, causing them to gradually approach each other over billions of years, and then much more quickly in the final minutes. During the final fraction of a second, the two black holes collide into each other at nearly one-half the speed of light and form a single more massive black hole, converting a portion of the combined black holes’ mass to energy, according to Einstein’s formula E=mc2. This energy is emitted as a final strong burst of gravitational waves. It is these gravitational waves that LIGO has observed.” – LIGO News Release, February 11, 2016
LHSA+DP was honored to have the opportunity to work closely with the LIGO Scientific Collaboration in 2009, helping them to create “Astronomy’s New Messengers,” a traveling exhibit as part of both the 2009 and 2010 World Science Festivals, and which continued on to a number of universities around the country. Our design of the undulating architectural enclosure and graphics of wave forms and ripples, was inspired by the content provided by the LIGO scientists with whom we collaborated.
The centerpiece of the visitor experience was an actual interferometer situated beneath a light sculpture custom-designed for this project by Leni Schwendinger. Visitors produced bursts, chirps and pulse noises vocally, which were sent as patterns through the sculpture to be detected by the interferometer – mimicking what LIGO has just achieved. On its travels, this exhibit reached thousands of high school and college students, undoubtedly inspiring many of them in to the field of astrophysics.
Congratulations to the LIGO Scientific Collaboration on this game-changing breakthrough! Einstein would be over the moon.