Our New View of the Universe Using Gravitational Waves

Sunday, February 19, 2017: 1:00 PM-2:30 PM
Room 203 (Hynes Convention Center)
Stanley Whitcomb, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA
On February 11, 2016, the detection of a gravitational wave signal from the collision of two black holes using the Advanced LIGO detectors was announced. This discovery immediately became one of the most widely discussed scientific achievements of our times. It was remarkable for three different reasons. First, it provided a new method for testing Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, which is central to our understanding of modern physics. Second, it opens an entirely new window for studying the universe, and gives us a way to see previously unobservable phenomena. Finally, the incredible sensitivity required to make this detection is a breathtaking technical achievement, probing how quantum mechanics applies to macroscopic objects. Remarkably, the essentials of the scientific implications of gravitational waves and the measurement technique can be understood by nonspecialists, opening the education and outreach opportunities described in the next two talks.