Friday, 12 February 2016

Gravity waves detected

Gravity waves have been detected and this really is a big deal. It starts a new era in astronomy. For most of human history people just looked at the stars with the naked eye. This was good enough to make calendars, navigate ships, etc.

Then in 1610 approx the Italian scientist Galileo built himself a telescope and the era of optical astronomy was born. (He didn't invent the telescope though; no-one can be sure who invented the telescope as it was of extreme military significance and top secret, probably for a hundred years before Galileo ever pointed one at the sky.)

Galileo was initially supported by the Catholic Church but he wrote some rude things about the pope (Urban VIII) who put him under house arrest for life. Ironically it was during his house arrest that he actually wrote his discoveries down - without those writings he might today be obscure or even unknown.

The next Era of Astronomy started in the 1930s when the radio telescope was invented (by a Bell engineer trying to find the source of static interference in radio signals.) And until yesterday radio astronomy was state of the art.

Now gravity waves have been detected.  So we have gravity astronomy. We will need three gravity telescopes though, in order to triangulate the source of the waves, then a slew of new discoveries may rain down on us. There could be big stuff out there we just cannot see. Remember, at least 95% of the mass of universe is currently unexplained, ie not part of any stars we can see.

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