Gravitational Waves Tell Some Secrets of the Universe

The author, Douglas Adams once wrote that the creation of the universe has made a lot of people angry and has been regarded as a bad move. However, today’s astronomers would agree to disagree with Douglas; they surely love to know the beginning of the universe. The recent first ever detection of gravitational waves has raised hopes of scientists to unlock the deep mysteries of the universe. Two decades ago, a physicist at the University of Cardiff named Bernard Schutz was fascinated by an idea of measuring the distance between the earth and the objects in the cosmos with the help of gravitational waves.

Schutz explained if we somehow managed to detect the ripples in spacetime, scientists would then know how strong the signal is, and would be able to estimate how far is the object from the earth. Furthermore, it can shade some light on how quickly the universe is expanding. Even though, the idea is simple to understand, it was impractical as nobody at the time could detect gravitational waves. However, last August, Schutz was greeted by an opportunity to test his theory when two more than 100-million-year-old neutron stars merged, and their reverberations passed through the gravitational detectors on the earth. The event was not the part of our Milky Ways, however, it happened in a relatively nearby galaxy, and was enough to produce the first ever measure of gravitational waves. Bernard Schutz was lucky to witness the occurring and he proved that his technique is essential for distance measurement.

According to the theory, when two masses spiral into each other, they produce ripples in spacetime–gravitational waves. The waves detected by Laser Interferometry Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) were the results of merger of two black holes, both size of about 30 times of our sun and more than one billion light-years away from us. They crashed and gravitational waves cried out. Yes, apparently one can listen to the gravitational waves. According to the scientists of LIGO, they have successfully detected six such events and hope to study more. Though such events are of massive scale, it requires precise instruments to detect and measure the phenomenon. Thus, students from the University of Glasgow have developed an artificial intelligence (AI) to ease the procedure and accurately measure the gravitational waves. A postgrad of the University of Glasgow, Hunter Gabbard said, “The system we developed is efficient due to match-filtering technique and deep learning algorithm. Once the AI knew what to look for in a signal, it can search for the gravitational waves and find it out from a big chunk of data, faster than any other instrument.”

The helping hand from AI has raised scientists’ expectations to find out more about the universe. However, such once-in-a-while event is not enough for a thorough study on gravitational waves, is it? Therefore, astronauts want to witness more mergers like this to resolve infinite debates in cosmology including–how fast is the universe is expanding.

Cosmology is not the only field that benefits from the study of gravitational waves, there are other disciplines that are waiting in the line to learn from the gravitational waves such as astronomy and astrophysics. Scientists have been pulling out their hair deciding what exactly happened few moments after the Big Bang, and how the universe designed itself into galaxies and planet systems. Therefore, let’s hope that the study of gravitational waves unveils such secrets of the universe in future.