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Confirmed: Ripples in Time-Space Caused by Colliding Black Holes

Feb. 11, 2016
LIGO team detects gravitational waves generated by colliding black holes 1.3 billion light-years away.

Fifteen years ago, scientists set up Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatories (LIGO) in two U.S. states (Washington State and Louisiana) with the hopes of detecting ripples in time-space caused by two massive colliding black holes 1.3 billion light years away. In 2014, a major breakthrough was made—sensors were developed that could pick up on very minuscule changes in interference between two lasers. In turn, teams at both observatories were finally able to detect contractions in time-space caused by the gravitational waves.

1. The gravitational field and spinning motion of the earth has a proven effect on the space-time continuum, warping it so that time and space are defined differently than they are here on earth. (Courtesy of NASA)

The phenomenon is coherent with Einstein’s theory of general relativity, where the gravitational field of massive bodies causes warping in the fabric of time-space. For example, in 2004, NASA scientists found that the axes of gyroscopes in satellites orbiting the earth were shifting over time due to an alteration in time-space caused by the earth’s spinning gravitational field. At LIGO, they detected gravitational waves that were generated by two massive colliding bodies with enormous gravitational fields, causing a big ripple that propagated through the universe.

Detection of gravitational waves marks a new era in identifying cosmic phenomena across the universe. Light is no longer the sole source of deep-space information gathering. This advance in research may map out changes in time-space caused by interactions between bodies with their own gravitational fields, as explained in the World Science video below.

What is the Fabric of Time-Space?

As proposed by Einstein in his theory of special relativity, the relationship between time and space is actually determined by the speed of a moving body. This was met with skepticism, since time seems like a constant entity on Earth that just keeps moving forward. However, the speed of light is actually the upper limit that defines time and space, and both variables can change, depending on the speed at which they are observed. For example, a traveling body that approaches the speed of light will begin to observe time moving slower. And since light can travel far distances over a very short time, this indicates that space contracts for a light beam. 

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