Gravity makes waves at Port Angeles Library

PORT ANGELES — Gravitational waves arriving at Earth from the far reaches of the universe tell the story of a cataclysmic event.

More about this discovery, and how it was detected by the twin Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), will be provided by LIGO’s Amber Henry at 6:30 p.m. Monday at the Port Angeles Library, 2210 S. Peabody St.

LIGO and other research programs are credited with the first observation of gravitational waves in 2016. Previously, gravitational waves had been inferred only indirectly.

It was also the first observation of a binary black hole merger, demonstrating both the existence of binary stellar-mass black hole systems and the fact that such mergers could occur within the current age of the universe.

Efforts to directly prove the existence of such waves had been ongoing for more than 50 years, and the waves are so minuscule that Albert Einstein himself doubted that they could ever be detected.

The waves given off by the cataclysmic merger of the two systems reached Earth as a ripple that changed the length of a 4-kilometer LIGO arm by a thousandth of the width of a proton.

The observation confirms the last remaining unproven prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity and validates its predictions of space-time distortion in the context of large-scale cosmic events (known as strong field tests).

It was also heralded as inaugurating a new era of gravitational-wave astronomy, which will enable observations of violent astrophysical events that were not previously possible, and potentially allow the direct observation of the very earliest history of the universe.

Henry serves as the education and outreach coordinator for the LIGO Hanford Observatory near the Tri-Cities.

She works with LIGO colleagues in the U.S. and around the globe to connect students and the public to the newly born field of gravitational wave astronomy.

For more information, email discover@nols.org.

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