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Ripples in Space and Time

Recently discovered gravitational waves from merging black holes validate Los Alamos predictions.
July 21, 2016

A binary system of black holes or neutron stars, spiraling inward and ultimately merging, would produce ripples in spacetime; such gravitational waves were recently detected for the first time. CREDIT: C. Henze/NASA

It’s groundbreaking to be sure, but according to Los Alamos astrophysicist Chris Fryer, it’s only the beginning.

The first-ever direct measurement of gravitational waves, whose existence Einstein predicted with his theory of spacetime exactly 100 years ago, confirms a Los Alamos prediction from 2010: based on the population statistics of objects capable of producing detectable gravitational waves, the most likely event for discovery would be the merger of two black holes. Because of the extreme gravity of black holes, their collision dramatically distorts the fabric of the universe, producing faintly measurable ripples in spacetime here on Earth.

Much of the future excitement of gravitational-wave astronomy, however, may not center upon black holes at all, but rather ultra-dense stellar remnants known as neutron stars. Measuring neutron-star-on-neutron-star mergers will soon allow scientists to identify the rich physics at work in extreme environments inaccessible to Earth-bound laboratories—physics that may be responsible for the very existence of certain natural elements found on Earth.


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