One can only be astounded by humanity’s ever-accelerating advances in technology … although I’m sure most of them have always taken place out of sight of the general populace. But every once in a while something hits the airwaves, and this latest leaves me feeling there are no limits whatever. Quoting one report (with my emphases) on the achievement:
On September 14, 2015, the two LIGO sites, in Louisiana and Washington State, independently detected a gravitational wave by measuring a discrepancy in the time the light rays took to reach a sensor at the ends of the tunnels. The precision of the measurement is simply astonishing. The difference in length that each light wave traveled corresponds to 1/1000th of the radius of a proton, a subatomic particle that is itself minuscule, with a size of about 10-12 meters.
But I am also astounded … and very pleased … that the real payoff of this technological feat must have come about by means of good ol’ rational inference and theory construction. For here (according to the same article) is what that blippiest of blips has revealed to us:
The signal captured precise details about the two black holes that, within a fraction of a second, collided, coalesced, and produced the gravitational wave. Scientists determined that they were thirty-six and twenty-nine times the mass of our sun, with event horizons approximately ninety-three miles wide. They produced a single black hole sixty-two times the mass of the sun. The difference in mass of the black holes before and after the collision was converted into energy in the form of gravitational waves. This is an enormous amount of energy, more than that in the visible light of all the stars in the universe combined. Scientists were also able to conclude that the black holes merged about 1.3 billion years ago, and that these ripples that stretched and compressed space traveled unimpeded to earth.
After Einstein: The Dark Mysteries
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