Somewhere out in the far reaches of space, 1.3 billion light years from Earth, two incredibly dense black holes spin around each other, racing at incredible speeds and moving ever closer to their inevitable collision. Finally, their event horizons merge, and they become one.
At the moment of contact, the black holes lose mass and emit gravitational waves — bursts of pure energy so powerful that they warp space time. It sounds like a fantastic, far-fetched scenario, but it’s not. This week, scientists announced that they were able to detect, and record, the gravitational waves here on Earth, on special antennae. You can listen to the chirp-like sound of the gravitational waves through a link here.
The confirmation of the existence of gravitational waves in this scenario is yet another confirmation of the theories of relativity of Albert Einstein. It’s extraordinary to think that one man, through use of thought experiments and applied mathematics, could have been such a profound scientific visionary and been able to predict so much — predictions that have been confirmed, time and time again, by others who followed in his path. We tend to think of Einstein as a kind of rumpled, wild-haired, avuncular figure, but inside lurked a mind and spirit so unique and far-sighted and brilliant that he was able to develop theories that explain some of the most amazing elements of our universe.
Gravitational waves, the bending and stretching of space time, the changes in relative time as a traveler approached the speed of light — all of these, and more, were born in the fertile brain of Uncle Albert. This week we learned, yet again, that the story of Albert Einstein is one of the great stories in the history of the human species, and it reaffirms that one person, through hard work and brilliant insight, can make all the difference.