Time, Space and Waves

Posted by on Feb 18, 2016 in Articles | One Comment

A) Is it only me or have you noticed that there are a lot of drivers out there who have taken a fancy to backing into parking spaces? What’s with that? It is hard enough for most people to go forward and get between the yellow lines but backing in? It doesn’t take Einstein to figure out that it is easier and faster to simply pull into a parking space. It’s a space-time thing. Besides, if everyone pulled in properly than it would be much easier to recognize the car about to make a hasty get away from a bank heist. This isn’t rocket science- quit screwing around and showing off and just pull in. We all thank you.

B) Did you hear that scientists have confirmed that gravitational waves are real and measurable? Huh? Okay, stay with me. Gravitational waves are waves of energy that move through the vast emptiness of space much like waves move through water after you throw a rock into a pond. Now imagine two boats colliding in a pond and the waves radiating away from them. That is what happens when two black holes collide in space. They send out waves of energy, gravitational waves, that travel through all of space and effect whatever they encounter.

You need the colliding objects to be really big to  produce measurable waves though. the waves that were just measured came from two huge black holes. One was 39 times the mass of our Sun and the other was 26 times.  That collision produced waves that traveled away through space-time (the Einstein-discovered fabric of space). But here’s the wonder- the collision of the two black holes took place a billion light-years away from Earth.

How far away is a billion light-years? Well, one light-year is 5.88 trillion miles. That is the distance light travels in a year’s time, 5.88 trillion miles. So a billion light-years is 5,880,000,000,000,000,000,000 miles. I don’t know the word for that number but I do know that is much more than a tank of gas will get you.  But wait, there’s more!

How are these gravitational waves detected? The waves cause any objects encountered to oscillate- to get rhythmically bigger and smaller. Happens to all objects but unless the object is big enough the effect is too small to measure. So scientists used two right-angle tunnels of different lengths each 2.5 miles long, one in Washington state and one in Louisiana, and compared the measurements over time. You have to be very precise- very, very precise. The telltale difference is .0001 of the width of a proton. Yes, that’s right- proton as in electron as in the particles that make up an atom. One ten thousandths the width of a proton! Head hurting yet?

And it was done! Physicists measured the oscillation produced from the collision of two black holes 1 billion light years away from the Earth and in so doing confirmed the existence of gravitational waves. Einstein, by the way, is the one who deduced gravitational waves. He got them from his general theory of relativity. All I get from the general theory of relativity is a headache.

C) This all sorta makes sense to me. I don’t understand it but it works for me. I get it. What I don’t get is backing into a parking space. Einstein didn’t get it either. Einstein did get spacetime. He was a terrible driver but he understood the fabric of space. He would never back into a parking spacetime.

 For a better explanation of all this read Lawrence Krauss’ essay in the February 14 New York Times Week in Review.

1 Comment

  1. Bob Wildman
    February 21, 2016

    It is not me but gravitational waves that cause camera shake and blurry photos.

    Let’s categorize backing into car spaces with selfies.


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