LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory) has just announced the first ever direct detection of gravitational waves. These are ripples in spacetime itself, propagating at the speed of light, and are a prediction of Einstein’s 1915 General Theory of Relativity. They should be produced copiously in many astrophysical processes, but they are so difficult to detect that only waves produced in extremely energetic processes are detectable. The signal seen by LIGO, for example, is from the collision of two black holes, of mass 29 and 36 times the mass of our sun, and resulting in about 3 solar masses being converted into gravity wave energy in a fraction of a second. The peak power was about 50 times that of the entire visible universe!
This is a major discovery, not only for the confirmation of a long-standing prediction of general relativity, but because it opens a new window on the structure of the universe. The era of gravity wave astronomy has dawned!
This year’s Science Lecture Series at Otterbein features William Phillips of NIST, co-recipient of the 1997 Nobel Prize for Physics for his pioneering work on laser trapping and cooling of atoms. Phillips will give a public lecture entitled Time, Einstein, and the Coolest Stuff in the Universe, at 7pm On February 18, 2016, in Riley Auditorium (BFAC). The talk is free and open to the public.
On Friday, Feb 19, he will also give a more technical talk entitled The Coming Revolution in the Metric System, at 10:50am in Riley.
The Ohio Department of Education has approved funding for a seventh year of OP2: Operation Physics for Middle Grades Science Teachers. This program brings to Otterbein a group of 30 (mainly) middle school physical science teachers for an intensive course in basic physics principles with lots of hands-on activities.
An amusing project from NIST for using a LEGO “Watt balance” — the device used in the recently updated definition of the kilogram — to measure Planck’s constant h. I’ll be firing this one up at home, for sure!