6 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Gravitational Waves

from Wired

NOW THAT WE have had some time to think about LIGO’s detection of gravitational waves, there are a few interesting comments I can make about it.

Gravitational waves don’t have to be useful

There is a common question that comes up in media whenever there is a new scientific discovery—“What can you do with it (gravitational waves)?” Can you build an anti-gravity machine? Could you use this to build a warp drive? These are all great ideas, but they miss the point. We don’t study gravitational waves so that we can make stuff. We study gravitational waves because we want to understand gravitational waves.

I think that Richard Feynman said it best:

More here.


10 Responses to 6 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Gravitational Waves

  1. Matthew Bacho February 19, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

    This article on the things we probably don’t know about gravitational waves was a very interesting read, especially with my knowledge in science, going to an Allied Health high school. I especially liked the quote in the beginning of the article by Richard Feynman “Physics is like sex: sure, it might give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it.” LIGO, or Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory is an observatory that detects gravitational waves, started by scientists in MIT and Caltech. First thing noted is the important fact that gravitational waves do not necessarily have to be useful. Scientists study waves for the matter of understanding waves, not for the sole purpose of making some breakthrough in science that can change the future, though it would be nice. The second fact that the article points out is that the LIGO never proved the existence of gravitational waves, per say. In fact, in science never proves anything to be necessarily true. Science is about building models and testing hypotheses. This scientific method for empirical data usually provides evidence for accuracy and consistency, but could be disproved, therefore nothing is necessarily always true. LIGO did not directly see any gravitational waves, rather inferred the existence of them via mirror motions.
    The third point noted in the article is that LIGO most likely would not have even been able to detect the wave signal without the Advanced LIGO that they have. The Advanced LIGO has enhanced detector sensitivity. Gravitational waves tend to lose strength the further away they get, so to be able to effectively detect the waves, it was only logical to be able to detect further out into space. The article notes how without this coverage in space, to be able to detect an event using ordinary LIGO, something would have to happen much closer to Earth, like two neutron stars colliding, which is quite rare. The fourth topic mentioned is how gravitational waves were beginning to be interesting to scientists in the 1970’s. Since then, the NSF or National Science Foundation has invested a lot of money into the project to find out about the waves. Since the 70’s, NSF has invested $1.1 billion dollars, which seems like a lot, but nothing compared to what the US Military spends in just one year, last year being over $600 billion dollars. Fifth point made, is the fact that there are efforts to put a similar machine like LIGO, out in space, to detect the gravitational waves with even more depth. This effort of creating a space station is called eLISA, which can observe the waves in the vacuum of space, not having any ground interference. The LISA station will be quite difficult to implement, but is still a work in progress. The last fact noted, that is pretty interesting, is how low frequency gravitational waves can probably be measured with a radio telescope. A radio telescope uses radio waves, rather than visible light. If done correctly, Pulsars can be timed between signals to determine the gravitational waves, similar to how the LIGO functions. This principle is called a Pulsar Timing Array and is a pretty interesting scientific method to discover something so unknown to everyone. After reading this article, I now know six more things about gravitational waves that I did not know before. As the famous GI Joe saying goes “Knowing is half the battle!”

  2. Cailee Valente February 19, 2016 at 6:38 pm #

    I have always been interested in science, specifically physics. In high school when most of my peers were taking “fun” electives such as television production courses or even metal shop, I was taking science electives. I took classes from anatomy and physiology, organic chemistry, general physics and a course that combined philosophy and physics. In this philosophy and physics dual course called “Advanced Topics in Physics” we learned about anything from black holes, to Schrodingers cat, to gravitational waves. There was even interesting conversation on whether light was a wave or particles or some sort of creation in between. This leads to the topic of how a lot of physics topics are theoretical or hard to prove. One of these matters is gravitational waves. It is exciting for a former physics nerd to see physics all over the media but many do not really know what it means. This article is informing but was not created for the purpose of being informational.
    The media always magnifies matters from gossip to in this case scientific discoveries. People may briefly read a twitter post about gravitational waves without even knowing what they just read and retweeting it. Now I am not saying it is the typical human being’s responsibility to research physics, but the fact that so many uneducated people (uneducated on this topic) are giving the scientific finding publicity shows how easy it is for people to be mislead. People may see a headline on gravitational waves existence and think we can now cure cancer or stop global warming, but that is false. As the article says, All of the research that went into this topic was just to show that, yes, gravitational waves really do exist. The most important part about this finding is the fact that it further validates Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
    One interesting point about this article is how the author mentioned that some inventions, such as lasers, were never intended to be so useful, today or find the “findings” that are capable of. This idea of unexpected luck is transferrable to multiple aspects of life. There are so many situations when something occurs that results in a desirable outcome that you never intentionally planned on. Sometimes random things happen that lead you toward accomplishing goals you never knew you had. This goes into another idea of how you cannot plan out everything and expect it to be fool proof. There are so many unexplainable and unidentifiable circumstances that you can’t count on happening, so sometimes it is best to let the random things happen. The way that Isaac Newton discovered gravity was unexpected. Whether the story is true or not, the theme of it still applies to this idea. He was laying under an apple tree when all of a sudden an apple fell and hit him in the head. He observed how the apple fell down toward the earth and all of a sudden he realized that gravity was real. He was not expecting to discover gravity in this way, yet the random unexpected scenario occurred and he figured it out.

  3. David Webster February 19, 2016 at 8:20 pm #

    The detection of gravitational waves is a huge milestone in the ongoing process of discovery in science. One thing that hasn’t been mentioned in the discussion of this discovery is that in 1916, exactly 100 years ago, Albert Einstein first predicted the existence of gravitational waves in his publication of his theory of general relativity. So, this discovery serves as a fitting anniversary.
    The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory is a large scale project started in 1992 by four MIT professors. With no shortage of funding (the program is backed by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the UK Science and Technology Facilities Council, the Max Planck Society of Germany, and the Australian Research Council), the project has been deemed one of the largest, most ambitious endeavors ever funded by the NSF. This investment has clearly paid off, as this discovery may be a stepping stone towards countless other future achievements.
    I see many similarities in the nature of this discovery, and the discovery of the Higgs Boson in 2012-13. Both required massive research facilities–the discovery of the Higgs Boson happened in the Large Hadron Collider, which is the largest and most complex research facility ever built. In fact, it’s the single largest machine ever built. On a basic level, the Higgs Boson–also known as the “God particle”–explains why certain particles have mass. Like the discovery of gravitational waves, there was no “proof,” per se. Instead, the research team saw similar behaviors to their standard model. Although it is difficult to explain to the common ear why the discovery of the Higgs, as well as gravitational waves, is important, they are considered massive milestones in the scientific community. This is mainly due to the fact that they provide strong supportive evidence to theories that have been postulated since the early to mid 1900’s.
    As I noted previously, this was a huge project. Specifically, the NSF invested $1 Billion dollars in this endeavor. This is of course a huge financial investment, however the article notes how the US military has a budget of $600 Billion. This trumps the amount of money spent on science-oriented projects such as these. Military funding (which is basically protection) is important, but imagine what we could do if we allocated just a tiny section of that towards scientific research, or even NASA. We could accelerate discoveries and further advance our technological society to a massive degree.


  4. Liz Martinez February 20, 2016 at 1:25 pm #

    Before reading this article, I actually hadn’t the faintest idea what a gravitational wave even was. After reading this article, I was still a little confused as to what they were, so I looked them up, and found out the basics.
    Gravitational waves are essentially ripples in the fabric of space-time, and are caused by some of the most violent and energetic processes in the Universe. These include things like the explosions of starts. They were first predicted by Albert Einstein in his general theory of relativity, and from what I was able to gather, are still just a theory, and not proven as fact (Caltech University).
    The most confusing portion of this piece for me at least, would have to be the part entitled “The LIGO detection didn’t prove the existence of gravitational waves” because it seems to say that science in general can’t prove anything, which I know it can, and then that it can only emphasize models truth or non-truth, and then that this LIGO detection didn’t do much of anything, but did show a binary pulsar with a changing orbital period. Now if you’re like me, you have no idea what that is either, so once again, I looked it up.
    It turns out that a binary pulsar with a changing orbital period translates to something along the lines of this: a star which is in a star system that moves in a certain way. I found out that a binary pulsar is really just a pulsar with a binary companion, and that a pulsar is really just short for a pulsating radio star, which is a star that is highly magnetized and rotating. I also found out that a binary companion is just a star system made up of two stars orbiting around a common barycenter.
    I felt a little dumb for not knowing anything about this, because apparently this was a discovery that was more than forty five years in the making, and which had an enormous amount of money poured into it over this period of research. It made me wonder if many other people knew about this, and so I asked around, and apparently, in my close circle of friends and family, only the engineering and physics majors knew remotely what I was talking about.
    I did find it cool that there are going to be detectors put into space in order to determine if these waves actually exist, and I’m wondering what effects the results of these detectors may have on other theories like string theory. I am concerned with how much money may have to be used to fund these expeditions, and where this money will be coming from, I’m assuming our taxes, because for me personally, I would think it’s more useful to get a man to mars than it is to figure out how this somewhat convoluted theory works. Keeping in mind that I am grossly uninformed about both subjects of exploration.
    I feel like this was a very bad article for me to have chosen to read. I didn’t really understand most of it, but I do feel more educated on the topic now, and am interested to see what becomes of it as time goes by. That being said, I will need a translator next to me if I ever decide to read something under the category of physics again.

  5. Sawyer Warzybuk February 24, 2016 at 6:39 pm #

    I am currently a Math major, and part of my required classes I have to take is Physics. I am currently taking physics this semester and we have been learning about gravitational waves. I believe this breakthrough is jaw dropping. This will probably be a Nobel Prize next year. First off, this was predicted by Eisenstein 100 years ago but he did not have the proper technology to produce proof towards his claim. The National Science Foundation has been funding this project since the 70’s. LIGO has made serious progress in the detection of gravitational waves. The detection of the waves demonstrate two black holes merging together- something we have not seen in space. This merging could have happened light-years ago, and it is fascinating how the gravitational waves are still being detected from these black-holes today. I loved reading this article because it is relevant to my class in school. Being able to have a cross of knowledge in two separate classes is always a once in a blue moon moment. Also, reading this article gave me more insight to this situation than my professor did in class. I hope the funding for allowing LIPO to be in space happens soon because there are probably more waves that can be easily detected rather than on Earth.

  6. Sulaiman Jilani February 24, 2016 at 7:52 pm #

    This article was an interesting article to read and it will be interesting for those people who wish to read this article, but have not done so yet. The title of the article itself will tell the reader that this is an interesting article to read. Even though science is such a complex topic, it does cover a lot of interesting topics such as gravitational waves. A gravitational wave is a wave of gravitational energy that is produced by accelerating masses. The detection of gravitational waves is a significant achievement to say the least and it is deserving of high praise as scientists are making more and more new discoveries in the field of science. Ligo did not prove the existence of gravitational waves because no one can really prove anything to be true with science. What Ligo did was show the existence of gravitational waves through mirror motions, but they did not see any gravitational waves themselves. One of the characteristics of gravitational waves is that they lose strength the further they go. With that being said, the best way to detect waves is to detect them in outer space.

    Even though this article does not have a lot to do with the business aspect of things, it is still an interesting article to read nonetheless. One thing that will be difficult in relation to these waves is where will the money come from to fund for this expedition. If that can get accomplished, this will certainly be something for people to look forward to, especially those who love science. Military funding and taxes could be two of the main sources, but more ways will be found to fund the expedition. The sooner this gets done, scientific discoveries will be done faster and technology in terms of quality will only get significantly better in the near future. This discovery is worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.

  7. Matt Gorski February 26, 2016 at 12:58 pm #

    Despite the fact that I’m a finance major and will never really need to know much about gravitational waves, it is certainly a subject that peaks my interest simply because physics is something I find very interesting. The most notable thing about the discovery of gravitational was that it proved Albert Einstein correct about his theory that he developed nearly 100 years ago. He had none of the tools and technology that we have today, yet he was still able to correctly predict that gravitational waves exist.

    One thing from the article that I found to be interesting is that gravitational waves and the study of gravitational waves really don’t serve any beneficial purpose. Physicists will not be able to great anti-gravity machines or build a warp drive. There is no kind of new technology that can be developed through the study of gravitational waves, but simply the waves are studied for the sake of learning about them. To continue off that point of studying gravitational waves, there are actually plans to put gravitational wave detectors in space in order to study them further. The eLISA program is planning on launching a gravitational wave detector station in space. In fact, the program recently launched two LISA Pathfinder test masses to see if they can accurately stay in position while in space.

  8. Jessica Spreen February 26, 2016 at 1:32 pm #

    I was never into science growing up and always found anything scientific related overall very boring. I took earth science, biology, chemistry, and physics in high school where each subject I would understand the material but had to work hard to get the grade I wanted. I was never really into any of those sciences but I always was intrigued in the stars and sky. If I were to choose a science that was my favorite, I feel like it would be astronomy. Even though I never have taken an astronomy class, the idea of studying what is in the sky and stars interests. This is why when I read this article, however, I actually became very intrigued. I never put much thought into gravitational waves until now and the article has a very unique satire that held my interest. One thing that I can infer about Rhett Allain is that he knows how to appeal to his audience as he quotes, “physics is like sex: Sure, it might give some practical results, but that’s not why we do it,” which drew me in because I would never think of comparing those two things before. I think he understands that the topic of gravitational waves is not on top of everyone’s list for reading so he wanted to not only draw in people but use this as an example to lead up to his first point. One point that did surprise me is that LIGO detection did not prove the existence of gravitational waves. Being that LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory with their mission statement being, “to open the field of gravitational-wave astrophysics through the direct detection of gravitational waves,” this article helped clarify that myth. https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/page/mission Surprisingly, Joseph H. Taylor, Jr., who received the Nobel Prize in physics, was the one to discover them. I am in no way discrediting LIGO on the work that they have done, but one must give credit where credit is due. One good point that was made in this article is that science never proves anything to be necessarily true. Science is about building models more than anything. This article also mentions how there isn’t just LIGO, but there is also Advanced LIGO, where the levels of our sensitivity levels of the detectors have increased where you can predict more events in the future. There is an image on the article that shows the range of how much father advanced LIGO covers compared to regular. The amount that is able to foresee is over five times the range of LIGO showing the improvement that has been made. One fact that made me feel indifferent is that the National Science Foundation made a significant investment in LIOG where they spend approximately $1.1 billion dollars since 1970. That is about $24,444,444 per year since they started investing. What made me feel a little uncomfortable was how they compared the National Science Foundation’s Investment to the amount that the US military spent. I believe that both entities are both important in our advancement but I don’t think the spending of each should be compared because the military is protecting and serving us so we can live as we do. I understand that both indirectly protect as LIGO can predict if anything catastrophic is going to happen in the future but the military works every day for us and requires that much spending for our safety. The final point was how you can probably measure low frequency gravitational waves with a radio telescope. This intrigued me because that means that you don’t need all their fancy equipment that they have at the observatory to track these waves. The article mentioned that it is all about pulsar timing array, and I was not exactly sure on what that was so I did further research. I learned that pulsar timing arrays, “detect long-period gravitational waves by measuring their effects on the light-travel times of pulses from rotating neutron stars” which basically means that they can pick up long-period gravitational waves by seeing how they react with stars. Throughout the article, I was able to gain knowledge on a new topic but I did have to go back and research certain words to fully understand the article. I did not enjoy the article as much as I thought I would, but I feel that I know more about gravitational wavelengths than I did before.

  9. Tyler Truong February 26, 2016 at 9:00 pm #

    Although none of my studies have to do with science or physics, the fact that gravitational waves exist is still extremely astonishing to me. It is true that they serve no beneficial purpose to the humans on Earth just yet, but because they exist they are here for us humans to understand. Who knows what practical applications gravitational waves could be used for? As of now no one knows but I’m certain that further down the line, great strides in science and physics could use this discovery for different purposes as well as research.
    Another reason this really caught my attention was because over 100 years ago, the theory of general relativity by Albert Einstein first came up with gravitational waves. Einstein did not have the technology or means of proving that gravitational waves existed, but his calculations and thoughts accumulated into the theory of general relativity. It is shockingly amazing that a man born over 100 years ago was able to theorize something that would be proven 100 years into the future.
    With the use of LIGO and the eLISA program, we are now going to be able to detect these gravitational waves in space. The eLISA program actually just launched two LISA Pathfinder tests into space in order to see if we are able to build a gravitational space observatory. With the usage of these new technologies, I feel like the saying “Born too late to explore the Earth, born too early to explore the galaxy” will soon be defunct.

  10. Hakim felder January 20, 2017 at 8:03 pm #

    Growing up in life, I was always so fascinated with the procedures of astronomy. Discovering that there was life on other planets, or that you would be able to live on other planets would be so beneficial. Every Planet in the solar system has a certain amount of gravitational pull. Reviewing over the “6 Things you Probably Didn’t Know About Gravitational Waves was very interesting and informative in a way. I had no Idea there was evidence of this event before I was even born. The three things that stuck out to me was that LIGO detection did not prove the existence of gravitational waves; LIGO probably would not have detected this signal without Advanced LIGO, You can probably measure low-frequency gravitational waves with a radio telescope.
    Where did gravitational waves come from? The world will never know, the reason being is that there is no proof. In order to find any proof science would have to be involved but it will not be the only aspect in determining the solution to the answer. According to Rhett Allain, “Science never proves anything true—it just cannot do that. Instead, science is about building models. If these models agree with real data, that is great—but it does not prove the model is true.” Science is very critical when trying to find out this solution because if any of the information is slightly off by a little bit then-then it could lead to having false information. According to Einstein’s theory of general relativity, “these pulsars should radiate gravitational waves and decrease their orbital period in the exact same manner” as detected by Hulse and Taylor. Therefore, they were the first to give convincing evidence of gravitational waves.
    As I am reading this article, I understand that there are two types of LIGO, there is the regular and then there is the advanced LIGO. What separates the two from each other? I do not understand why the regular LIGO was not able to detect the gravitational waves and the advanced LIGO was. It is stated that Advance form of LIGO has increased the level of sensitivity of the detectors. Waves tend to decrease at longer distances. Having a more sensitive detector make it easier to view the outer aspects of the universe. If Advanced LIGO never existed then two neutron stars would have to collide close to planet Earth. This is a gravitational event, which would be rare to happen. Since the sensitivity did increase, future events would be easy to spot.
    I understand that LIGO is very excited that they discovered the gravitational waves before the people who worked with the radio Telescope did. In this article, it is saying that the radio telescope could have discovered gravitational waves. Science is so confusing when there is not much proof that is involved. They believe that the telescope can measure the pulsars. They are a system called the pulsar time array. According to Rhett Allain, “The basic idea is to look at the signals from pulsars at different locations. As a low frequency, the gravitational wave passes through the pulsars, their individual timing clocks will change. Using the change in time with the location of the pulsars, you basically have a giant version of LIGO in space” When I look at this point I realized it said probably so I assumed it can be tested and can be proved neither correct or incorrect, only time will tell.

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