Gravitational Waves: A Toss Away from a Revolution

In some ways, space is just like a pond of water.

One of biggest problems in modern astrophysics is the search for gravitational waves. First proposed in Einstein’s theory of general relativity, gravity waves are ripples in space-time that can transfer high amounts of energy.The pebbles are suspected to be compact objects like white dwarfs, neutron stars, and black holes. Currently, gravitational waves are most notably studied by the LIGO project, which is operated by both MIT and Caltech. With such an advanced detector, it is logical that a person would ask, “Why is it so hard to detect gravity waves?” At the frequencies gravitational waves would exist, there is an immense amount of background noise. It is similar to dropping a rock into the ocean, but not being able to see the ripples because a tsunami crashes over the area.

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But tremendous progress has been made towards their discovery. The Hulse-Taylor binary system contains two pulsars orbiting each other. They create a whirlpool of gravity that has dissipated, causing their period to decrease. LIGO has frequently observed this system, in hopes that they can catch a glimpse before the tsunami destroys scientist’s hopes. The scientific community was stunned when in March, 2014, the telescope BICEP2, stationed in the South Pole, claimed to have observed evidence for gravity waves. While observing the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (or CMBR), a ubiquitous form of radiation that is evident of the early stages of the Universe, the telescope allegedly measured B-mode polarization.

This curling of the orientation of light waves could only be caused by gravitational waves. Unfortunately for the astrophysical community, the Plank satellite quickly disproved BICEP2’s findings in September. Their observations of the CMBR found that the B-mode polarization was caused by interference with the interstellar dust. This result was disappointing for many scientists, who had hoped BICEP2’s findings would revolutionize the field. Instead, they were again drowned by the unrelenting tsunami of noise.

This research has not only a very big impact on astrophysics, but also on the world in general. The discovery of gravity waves would not only provide further evidence for the theory of relativity, but would also allow scientists to look at the Universe in a new perspective. Imagine the possibilities if we could create if we can create a ripple without a stone; indeed, the world is on the cusp of a breakthrough.