Hawking thrilled with gravitational wave discovery, PM lauds India role

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Feb 12, 2016 09:59 IST
An artist's rendering of an outburst on an ultra-magnetic neutron star, also called a magnetar is shown in this handout. Scientists on Thursday announced that they were able to detect gravitational w aves for the first time since their existence was first theorised by Albert Einstein. (REUTERS)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi congratulated Indian scientists for their role in helping to detect gravitational waves for the first time since their existence was theorised by Albert Einstein.

“Immensely proud that Indian scientists played an important role in this challenging quest,” he tweeted.

“Historic detection of gravitational waves opens up new frontier for understanding of universe,” he said in a series of posts on the microblogging website.

US Scientists announced on Thursday that they had detected, heard and measured gravitational waves, a scientific triumph that is being compared to Galileo first turning a telescope to the heavens 400 years ago.

“We have detected gravitational waves. We did it,” said David Reitze, head of LIGO Laboratory, the scientific facility that found them, to applause at a crowded news briefing in DC.

Physicist Gabriela González, one of the four scientists present when LIGO announced that it had detected gravitational waves for the first time. (Photo courtesy: Louisiana State University )

The waves captured were triggered by two blackholes colliding to form a larger blackhole approximately 1.3 billion years ago, according to scientists making the announcement.

They were captured by the LIGO — Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory — facility in Louisiana at 551AM on September 14, 2015, and confirmed by another such device in Washington state.

Sixty Indian scientists from nine Indian institutes were part of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration that is involved in research and analysis of data generated from the detector.

Noted theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking took to Facebook to express his joy at the landmark discovery.

“As a theoretical physicist, I have spent my life contributing to our understanding of the universe.” he wrote. “It is thrilling to see predictions I made over 40 years ago such as the black hole area and uniqueness theorems being observed within my lifetime.”

(Image courtesy: Stephen Hawking’s official Facebook page)

Gravitational waves are ripples in the space-time fabric triggered by colliding blackholes or a neutron star (that is formed by explosive death of another star).

These waves were known to scientists only in theory, first propounded — or prophesied, as has also been said — by Albert Einstein in his theory of relativity around 100 years ago.

Until September 14, when they were first detected, and February 11, when they were revealed to the world ending days of feverish speculation among scientists and space geeks.

Read: Ripples in space time: Gravitational waves ‘seen’ from black hole

They looked like squiggles on an ECG chart displayed at the announcement, and sounded, in a short 20-millisecond burst, like a “chirp”, as described by a scientist who replayed it for reports.

“Einstein would be beaming wouldn’t he,” said France A Cardova, head of US National Science Foundation, which funded the LIGO facilities and the project.

LIGOs are L-shaped devices each with 4-km-long arms that have laser beams racing back and forth between mirrors to catch, and measure, the tiniest inflection in space.

Watch: Ripples in space-time fabric

There are just two of them now, and both in the US, operated by scientists drawn from all parts of the world. But there are plans for more, including one in Pune, India.

“For the first time the universe has spoken to us through gravitational waves,” Reitze, the California-based head of LIGO who could barely conceal his excitement, said.

“We will hear more of these things — we will also hear things we never expected, we never saw before,” he added.

Scientists expect the detection of gravitational waves to help them explore the universe better — “go deeper”, as one of them put it, by unlocking known and unknown mysteries.

Since gravitational waves are not absorbed or reflected by matter, they theoretically carry information on the motion of objects in the universe. By detecting and analysing them, it is believed that we will be able to further our understanding of the creation of the universe and its history.

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