Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

A local physicist reacts to the discovery of gravitational waves

LIGO Laboratory


Physicists announced the discovery of gravitational waves on Thursday, validating Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Einstein predicted the existence of these ripples in the fabric of spacetime a hundred years ago. If confirmed, this finding would be a major step forward in learning more about the nature of our universe.

The gravitational waves were detected in mid-September by LIGO, a global collaboration of researchers who study signals picked up by special L-shaped antennas. Located in Washington state and Louisiana, the antennas recorded the sound of two black holes colliding 1.3 billion light-years away. That sound was a faint tone that rose to the note of middle C.

“If you have acceleration of massive objects, such as two black holes rotating and plunging into each other, you can release a huge amount of gravitational waves, according to general relativity," said Qaisar Shafi, a theoretical physicist at University of Delaware.

He added that the new discovery shows that "on these time scales and these mass scales, the general theory is working beautifully actually, so all the way from solar system, scales to these black holes merging with each other, it seems to be doing a terrific job, in fact.”

Shafi found the announcement exciting, but there’s still a lot of work ahead to check LIGO’s work.  

“It looks pretty good, but it’s not a definitive proof, I would say. We need to make more observations and wait for a hundred percent confirmation. It is certainly a very good signal, it seems," said Shafi.

In 2014, a different team of astronomers, using a telescope in the South Pole, also claimed that they had detected gravitational waves. But later, they admitted that their results had likely been contaminated by interstellar dust.

Related Content