The theory of space, time, and gravitation

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Over the last five years, the entire system was rebuilt to increase its sensitivity to the point where the team could realistically expect to hear something. At the end of each arm are mirrors hanging by glass threads, isolated from the bumps and shrieks of the environment better than any Rolls-Royce ever conceived. Thus coddled, the lasers in the present incarnation, known as Advanced LIGO, can detect changes in the length of one of those arms as small as one ten-thousandth the diameter of a proton — a subatomic particle too small to be seen by even the most powerful microscopes — as a gravitational wave sweeps through.

Space, Time and Gravitation: An Outline of the General Relativity Theory

Welcome to the place of no return — a region in space where the gravitational pull is so strong that not even light can escape it. This is a black hole. Even with such extreme sensitivity, only the most massive and violent events out there would be loud enough to make the detectors ring. LIGO was designed to catch collisions of neutron stars, which can produce the violent flashes known as gamma ray bursts.

Black holes, the even-more-extreme remains of dead stars, could be expected to do the same, but nobody knew if they existed in pairs or how often they might collide. If they did, however, the waves from the collision would be far louder and lower pitched than those from neutron stars. Thorne and others long thought these would be the first waves to be heard by LIGO. But even he did not expect it would happen so quickly. On Sept. Seven milliseconds later, the signal hit the Hanford site. LIGO scientists later determined that the likelihood of such signals landing simultaneously by pure chance was vanishingly small.

Nobody was awake in the United States, but computers tagged the event, and European colleagues noticed. Reitze was on a plane to Louisiana the next day. Weiss, on vacation in Maine, found out when he checked in by computer that morning. The frequency of the chirp was too low for neutron stars, the physicists knew. Detailed analysis of its form told a tale of Brobdingnagian activities in a far corner of the universe: the last waltz of a pair of black holes shockingly larger than astrophysicists had been expecting.

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One of them was 36 times as massive as the sun, the other As they approached the end, at half the speed of light, they were circling each other times a second. And then the ringing stopped as the two holes coalesced into a single black hole, a trapdoor in space with the equivalent mass of 62 suns. All in a fifth of a second, Earth time.

Weiss said you could reproduce the chirp by running your fingernails across the keys of a piano from the low end to middle C. As visible light, that energy would be equivalent to the brightness of a billion trillion suns. And yet it moved the LIGO mirrors only four one-thousandths of the diameter of a proton. The signal conformed precisely to the predictions of general relativity for black holes as calculated in computer simulations, Dr. Reitze said. Shortly after the September event, LIGO recorded another, weaker signal that was probably also from black holes, the team said. According to Dr.

Weiss, there were at least four detections during the first LIGO observing run, which ended in January. The second run will begin this summer. In the fall, another detector, Advanced Virgo, operated by the European Gravitational Observatory in Italy, will start up. There are hopes for more in the future, in India and Japan. Astronomers now know that pairs of black holes do exist in the universe , and they are rushing to explain how they got so big. According to Vicky Kalogera of Northwestern University, there are two contenders right now: Earlier in the universe, stars lacking elements heavier than helium could have grown to galumphing sizes and then collapsed straight into black holes without the fireworks of a supernova explosion, the method by which other stars say goodbye.

Or it could be that in the dense gatherings of stars known as globular clusters, black holes sink to the center and merge. Michael S. Turner, a cosmologist at the University of Chicago, noted that astronomers had once referred to the search for gravitational waves as an experiment, not an observatory. Thorne, who is now retired from LIGO. Drever, who has dementia and lives in a nursing home near Edinburgh, is not able to enjoy the victory lap.

Thorne wrote in an email.


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Weiss, who is retired with emeritus status at M. This tendency was almost the undoing of the LIGO discovery. Only three days before the black hole chirp came in, Dr. Weiss was at the Livingston site, he recalled, and was horrified to find that the antenna readings were plagued by radio interference. That needs to be fixed, he told his colleagues, imploring them to delay the engineering run. But they demurred, saying that everything was ready, that it was too late to stop the program.

Lucky for them. Elusive Disturbances When Einstein announced his theory in , he rewrote the rules for space and time that had prevailed for more than years, since the time of Newton, stipulating a static and fixed framework for the universe. A Quixotic Project Dr. What Is General Relativity? Peres, Nuovo Cimento, 13 , Petrova and I. Sandina, Dokl. Nauk SSSR, , Denisov and A. Logunov, Teor. Logunov et al. Vlasov, V. Denisov, A. Logunov, and M. Mestvirishvili, Teor. Mestvirishvili, Fiz.


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