Thursday, February 11, 2016

Hey Grandma look: I finally study something that exists!

So much has been already written about today's announcement of the first direct discovery of the gravitational waves from two merging black holes by the advanced LIGO detector. Some examples:

[1], [2], [3] (this beautiful piece by my friend and colleague Emanuele Berti)

In Italian press: [1], [2], [3]

Exactly 100 years ago, Albert Einstein proved that his theory of gravity, General Relativity, predicted the existence of gravitational waves.

This is nothing but one of the most outstanding historic discoveries in science. However, since you can find much deeper posts on this topic, here are some random, not-so-serious, thoughts hastily written down while watching today's live streaming announcement (sorry for typos, this is written on the wings):

1) Look Grandma: I finally study something that exists!
[Last time someone told my grandma that maybe black holes didn't exist after all.. she literally cried!]

2) Wow, my field of research has finally become mainstream! [is this good of bad? Anyway, the largest lecture hall at the Physics Department at Sapienza was full 30 mins before the live streaming..that's pretty uncommon for something related to gravity...]

3) The first direct detection of gravitational waves is really great, but what is emitting these waves is even more interesting: these are two black holes orbiting each other, loosing energy through gravitational-wave emission and finally merging to form a final big black hole. All of this is beautifully predicted by Einstein's theory of General Relativity and required several decades of theoretical, experimental and computational work.

4) Now everyone claims they have predicted that the signal from a binary black hole merger would have been detected. Truth is, just 6 months ago nobody would have bet on this particular source.

5) Related to this, isn't it amazing how physics works? It takes just a single observation to completely change the paradigm that theorists have built over decades. Just 6 months ago very few people would have predict that LIGO -even in the case of a detection- would have been able to test General Relativity or just to make some science or astrophysics out of this discovery. Well, judging from the result of the paper published today (and the companion papers to come) this expectation was completely wrong.

6) Finally, my bets for the Nobel Prize (in random order)

Rainer Weiss, one of the founders of LIGO

Roy Kerr, who discovered the unique solution of General Relativity describing a spinning black hole

Kip Thorne, one of the cofounders of LIGO, and of the fathers of modern General Relativity
(plus one of the creator of the movie Interstellar)
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