Gravitational waves find could allow scientists to build a 'time machine' to look at the universe’s past

The disturbances, which went undetected until now, emanate from the earliest and strangest parts of the universe

Andrew Griffin
Thursday 11 February 2016 16:00 GMT
What are Gravitational Waves?

The detection of gravitational waves could allow scientists to build something like a time machine to look into the earliest and darkest parts of the universe.

The “ripples in the fabric of spacetime” — which scientists are to announce have been detected for the first time — could allow people to reach back and understand how black holes and the universe itself were formed.

The waves have been detected by the LIGO project, based in the US, which uses highly-sensitive instruments to try and spot the waves as they move past the Earth. Gravitational waves are ripples in spacetime itself, and are thrown out by black holes and dying stars —which scientists might now be able to get a better view of.

Now scientists hope that they can find success launching even more ambitious attempts to capture the waves. Some of those will be launched into space, while others will be based on the Earth.

Launching the equipment into space will allow scientists to get away from the noise and bustle of our planet, and could allow them to isolate the “sound” of the waves even more accurately. It will also allow for much more space — and the planned projects are thousands of kilometres wide.

One of the most ambitious of those projects is eLISA, which is set to be launched in the 2020.

That consists of three satellites, each positioned a million kilometres apart.

Together they will be able to measure spacetime as it stretches and squeezes, watching for how it does so. That will allow it to work out where the gravitational waves are coming from, and shed a kind of light on matter far into the dark depths of the universe.

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