Feb 12 2016

The buzz: waves!


I awoke this morning to find the Internet all a-buzz with the news that gravitational waves have been detected!

The press conference was at 10:30, and I totally missed it due to: a) waking up late (I’m a night-owl; I make no apologies); and b) using the first half-hour I’m awake every day to write something (literally, before speaking a word to another human, or reading a single line of words in any medium, I try to write something, anything).

Fortunately: Hooray Internet.  Because the entire press conference was made available on YouTube:

This served as a good incentive to go to the gym, since Planet Fitness has free wifi, and I have an iPad  for just such circumstances.  Also for Netflix.  I make no apologies.

For a quick general-public explanation of what the fuss is about, here’s a link to a New York Times article that includes a nice video.

As well as the big-news rush of this discovery, I find myself delighted by the very cleverness of the design of the LIGO apparatus itself.  Splitting a light beam, reflecting it back and recombining in such a way that the waves cancel each other out, and there is no light ( yes, half a beam of light plus half a beam of light equals no light, if you do it right) — UNLESS one of those mirrors moves even fractionally.   If there’s light detected, that means something moved.  And suspending things, such that local vibrations are minimized — How smart is that?  I love the little demo they give in the press conference.  (Also amusing: the part where the reporter from TASS pointed out that the Russians thought of this fifty years ago.)

The day before the announcement, physicist Sabine Hossenfelder’s blog had a nice introduction to gravitational waves, somewhat more technical than the New York Times, which she posted because rumors about the discovery were flyin’.

And Randall Munroe of XKCD even broke with his publishing schedule to do a comic on his off-day to commemorate the event today:

Actually, my first news of all this came on Facebook, where author Amy K. Nichols (fellow Schrodinger Cat from the workshop last year) was already sharing links.

She also brought this to my attention:

[UPDATE: bad link! Go to OK GO’s own website to view the video]

Everything’s happy when there’s a new OK GO video…