There are moments in science when the word “breakthrough” is no hyperbole.
We have seen this after scientists in four capital cities from Washington to Moscow announced that they have jointly discovered gravitational waves resulting from the violent collision of two black holes, each many tens of times more massive than the Sun.
It is beautiful confirmation of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, which predicted the existence of gravitational waves a year after it was published in 1915.
These waves are best described as ripples in the fabric of space-time — the theoretical model devised by Einstein that describes gravity as an interwoven mesh of space and time.
Once again, the technical ability of modern physics, and its exquisitely sensitive instrumentation, has revealed the genius of Einstein in describing the laws governing the Universe. More than confirming his second theory of relativity, the discovery of gravitational waves opens up the “dark” Universe to a new kind of astronomy — one based on gravitational-wave detectors sited on land and in space.
We can expect in the coming years and decades to learn much more about the hidden cosmic objects and events that are quite invisible to us even with our varied array of telescopes spanning the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Gravitational-wave observatories will be akin to the fictional X-ray vision of Superman, revealing vistas of the hidden cosmos, almost back to the beginning of time itself.
The announcement, led by American physicists working at the US Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (Ligo), will go down as one of the greatest achievements in human history. It came after decades of apparently fruitless research, which only underlines the fact that true scientific breakthroughs take time, patience and, sometimes, just a little bit of luck.
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