100 Years Later

24984166005_8e152632f3_bAlbert Einstein was right. Again. But it took scientists more than 100 years to find the first evidence (facts to show something is true) that a prediction (to say that something will be true) he made in 1915 is correct.

To try to wrap our heads around (understand) what has happened, let’s start with something we know: throwing rocks into a pond (small lake). When you throw a rock into a pond, it creates a circle of small waves in the water. As the circle expands (grows), the waves get smaller and smaller until they seem to disappear.

Waves explain the nature (what something is like) of many of the things we experience every day. Take sound as an example. If a tree falls down in a forest, why do we hear it? We hear it because when it hits the ground, it causes waves to move through the air that our ears hear as the sound of a tree hitting the ground.

Einstein believed that something similar happens in space. Gravity is the invisible (can’t be seen) force that causes an apple to fall from a tree to the ground. There are large invisible places in space, called black holes, where the gravity is so strong that not even light can get out of them. Einstein believed that a large event – like two black holes coming together to make a new, larger black hole – would create a gravitational (adjective for gravity) wave that travels billions of miles across space.

There was one problem. The event Einstein had in mind (was thinking about) was so far away that the waves would be too small to measure – about 1,000 times smaller than the center of an atom – by the time they got to earth. And that is the problem that scientists have solved, 100 years after Einstein made his prediction.

To solve the problem, scientists made a measuring device, called LIGO, shaped like an “L”. Both arms of the “L” were exactly the same length – about 2.5 miles (4 km) – and had mirrors at the ends. The scientists shined a line of light at the two mirrors, half of it at one mirror and half at the other, and measured how long it took the light to return from the mirrors. If Einstein was right, gravitational waves would cause one line of light to return to the starting point a very small time later than the other. And that’s what happened.

There are many things to be impressed with in this story. Einstein, first of all, for his ability to think about and predict something like gravitational waves. The scientists for their ability to think of a way to measure the waves and to design and make the equipment to do it.

I’m also impressed with the patience (ability to keep working on something for a long time) of the scientists who worked on this project. They – helped by many assistants and graduate students – spent 40 years looking for, finding, and creating a way to measure the tiny waves of gravity that told them that Einstein was right. They were young men when they started. Today, one of the lead scientists is in his mid-70s, the second is in his early 80s, and the third is 85. I wonder how many people in today’s world would be willing to work that long and that hard on a project that could have easily failed (not worked).

If you’re interested in this topic, I think you’ll enjoy these videos from MIT and the New York Times.

~ Warren Ediger – ESL/EFL coach and tutor and creator of the Successful English website.

Photo by Charly W. Karl used under Creative Commons license.

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8 Responses to 100 Years Later

  1. Dan says:

    Hello Warren.

    Good thing we have this kind of news. Needless to say Einstein was a genius and my thanks and respect goes to scientists in general.

    You know, last week when I heard that in my own country two pieces of art (two nude statues) were covered up for the visit in Rome of the Iranian president was really depressing.
    Can you imagine if we start covering up things that people find offensive?

    I am just bringing that back to help visualize the huge difference between the two pieces of news. If you know what I mean..wink, wink, nudge, nudge.


  2. Dan says:

    Hi everyone.

    Wow that instrument/detector is something impressive.
    You can only appreciate that when you realize with everyday experience the difference between talking and actually doing things.
    I have been working attached to a piece of machinery for the last 29 years and I know/understand well that difference. Believe me, not everyone does.

    Thanks again

  3. Dan says:

    Hi me again sorry..

    I was thinking about this last night and something worth of mentioning
    about this is witnessing the beauty of one of the best things we came up
    with and that is the scientific method.
    See, no matter what a genius and his mathematical equations say, even if it’s the most convincing idea they have, it must be proven with facts/experimentation, tested and confirmed.
    Isn’t that alone beautiful?
    Correct me if I am wrong but one of the founders of that was Galileo.

    Thank you

  4. Aecio Flavio Perim says:

    Einstein came from a planet other than Earth. He had imagination beyond human comprehension. Too bad he died. Now I wonder when the mankind will have another Einstein. Hard to say.

  5. Thiago Messias says:

    Impressive work!

  6. Pete says:

    It a known fact that persiveteamce always pay dividends.
    Hi Warren,
    Impressive indeed.
    U know,how many tears the scientific put in this project ” 10 years”
    The first device they made failed.
    Did the failure discourage them? No
    They spend an additional 200 milions to upgrade the device to what we see today.
    The new discovery of what existence put forth like over one century ago is opening a need front in the world of extraterrestrial science and space.
    Ur ables then to see phenomena that was invisible to them till now.
    They can study the collide of black holes, the formation of its core and a score of other space phenomena.
    The discovery will usher in a new era that may unravel the biggest mystery of all time ” the Big Bang theory.”

    Thanks to the one the greatest scientist of all time.

    Thanks Albert for what you set forth one century ago.
    Hey ,guess what, ur theory panned out.
    How about that ? You rascal :))))


  7. Dan says:

    Hello guys

    Just to suggest a video for those as myself included asking themselves the practical implications of such experimental confirmation.
    The Late show with Stephen Colbert’s you tube channel just posted a video with professor of physic Brian Greene explaining some of the practical application of Einstein’ prediction.

    They even show it with a small laser in the studio.

    Thanks bye.

  8. Roberto says:

    Hello everyone,

    As Aecio says Einstein was a man from other planet… I don’t understand how a lot of “simple” things work: tv, radio, computers… but I have always loved Physics: you know black holes, quantum physics, time, relativity theory, and so forth.

    I read in the Asimov’s book “The Universe” that a Greek philosopher had measured the circumference of Earth with the help of a rod and the Sun and he had committed an error in only hundreds of meters…. two thousands and a half years ago!!!

    I am impressed by people who think in an abstract way because they really move forward mankind: Galileo, Einstein, Hawking, how does it work his mind?. Of course, I am sure of one thing, it is faster than mine!



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