Gravity Waves Detected
The “Chirp” Heard Round The Universe
By Silas Wheeler
In case you missed it, a while back two black holes collided and created ripples in the fabric of space–time known as gravity waves. Because “a while back” is about 1.3 billion years ago, it’s understandable if it slipped your mind. (Gravity waves are similar to the water waves made by a drunk spring breaker when he does cannonballs off the balcony into the motel swimming pool―unless he misses the pool. Then regular gravity comes into play.)
Meanwhile, here on Earth 1.3 billion years ago, multicellular organisms were just getting a foothold on the planet so naturally the black hole collision didn’t get much attention. Fast-forward to the year 1916 when a really smart multicellular organism named Albert Einstein theorized the existence of gravity waves. (If your last name is Einstein, that’s the sort of thing you have to do.)
Now, fast-forward to the year 2016. Scientists at a place called the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) announced that they had detected gravity waves from the aforementioned collision, thus proving Einstein right again. Big surprise, that.
Physicists around the world hailed gravity wave detection as a major discovery, and insisted that it was certainly worth the cost―about $1.1 billion over the 40-year life of the project. Considering that the US government currently spends that much in less than three hours, it seems like a bargain.
“And what exactly did we taxpayers get for our money?” you might ask. We got a cosmic “chirp,” which is what the LIGO scientists called the audio rendition of the gravity waves. The chirp lasted for only a fraction of a second, but was enough to convince the scientists that they’d found what they were looking for.
You can listen to it here at two different frequencies: https://www.ligo.caltech.edu/video/ligo20160211v2, although to me it sounds more like heavy breathing than chirping.
I know it seems like we didn’t get much from an expenditure of over a billion dollars, but if you replay it 20 times as I did, it comes out to about $50 million per chirp. That’s not bad for a government-funded project.