On 11 February 2016 the LIGO Scientific Collaboration published a breakthrough article on the detection of gravitational waves titled “Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger”. We are proud that the GYA member Stefan Hild is among the successful research team of LIGO. Congratulations to this scientific success!
Exactly 100 years ago Albert Einstein realised that as a consequence of his Theory of General Relativity there should be gravitational radiation, so-called gravitational waves. These ripples in space time are emitted by the most violent events in the Universe, such as exploding stars, colliding black holes or even the aftermath of the Big Bang, but unfortunately they are very tiny in magnitude. Actually, they are so small that Einstein allegedly said that they are too small to ever be measured. Now we have proofed Einstein wrong and right at the same time.Right because we discovered the gravitational waves he predicted and at the same time wrong, because we could really measure them.
However this discovery is much more than just trying to proof Albert Einstein right. The observation of the signal from two colliding black holes, even though it is less than a second long, has already changed our view of Universe.
This discovery is remarkable on several levels:
- It is the first time we have measured gravitational waves.
- It is the first direct observation of a black hole, or actually two.
- From the sound of the signal we could determine that these are black holes of about 30-40 solar masses. While we had indirect evidence for the existence of black holes of a few solar masses and also for the existence of a super massive black hole in the galactic center (million solar masses), there was a gap in-between. We were guessing that black holes of several tens of solar masses are likely to exist, but we had no indication for that.
The significance for science is tremendous. So far nearly everything we know about the Universe we have obtained from observation of electromagnetic waves. Gravitational waves will open up a completely new window to the Universe. It is just giving us a new sense. Just like giving a deaf person a way to hear.
Stefan Hild, who is amongst the younger generation of researchers working on this scientific challenge, dedicated 16 years of research to building gravitational wave detectors, starting already at the beginning of his studies in Physics in 1999. Hild describes his passion for this research:
“I got immediately excited and thrilled by the amazing technology and the prospects of how we can unlock the secrets of the Universe. I stayed in the field since then, most of the days waking up in the morning hoping that today would be the day we see gravitational waves for the first time.”
A look into the future
And the research does not stop here. Stefan Hild plans to work on projects, taking the technology beyond its current state. On the one hand he leads the research on a completely new interferometer type for gravitational wave detection, so-called ‘speed-meter’, which has the potential to ‘trick Heisenberg’ and allow senstivities beyond what is possible with the currently used Michelson interferometers. Another project called ‘Einstein Telescope’ works on building underground interferometer that is 10 times more sensitive as Advanced LIGO and can therefore observe gravitational waves from a 1000 times larger volume of the Universe. With these new technologies the researchers want to answer questions like: “What happened in the first few seconds after the Big Bang?”, “What is the origin of the supermassive black hole in the center of the galaxy?”, “Where do gamma ray burst from?”, “What exactly happens in a supernovae?”, and “What is the nature of dark matter and dark energy?”.
For more info see also the original Press Release by LIGO.
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