Saturday, 13 February 2016

Gravitational waves: Numbers don't do them justice

"It's astonishing; it really is." Jim Hough can't stop repeating the phrase.
The veteran gravitational wave hunter from Glasgow University has come to the National Press Club in Washington DC to witness the announcement of the first direct detection of ripples in the fabric of space-time caused by the merger of two "intermediate-sized" black holes.
The numbers look bald on paper, but it's when you try to imagine the scenario being described in those numbers that you rock backwards.
Imagine two monster black holes spinning down on each other in space. One has a mass which is about 35 times that of our Sun, the other roughly 30. At the moment just before they coalesce, they're turning around each other several tens of times a second. And then, their event horizons merge and they become one - like two soap bubbles in a bath.
David Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatories (LIGO), described it thus: "Take something about 150km in diameter, and pack 30 times the mass of the Sun into that, and then accelerate it to half the speed of light. Now, take another thing that's 30 times the mass of the Sun, and accelerate that to half the speed of light. And then collide [the two objects] together. That's what we saw here. It's mind boggling."=read more = bbc link=

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