A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away….
Two black holes, with masses 29 and 35 times the mass of the Sun, merged to form an even bigger black hole. The merger resulted in three entire suns worth of matter converted to pure energy in the form of gravitational waves. The waves travelled a billion light years before a tiny meat-filled species on a pale blue dot in space figured how to see them. Thanks to the smartest one that species had seen in a century, they knew that black holes might merge, and that they would produce these waves if they ever collided. They put so much trust in his proven theory, that they searched for many years to find the waves he predicted. Exactly 100 years after his famous theory was released, their hard work paid off, and they celebrated one of the most significant discoveries in meat-filled history.
The merger of the two black holes was detected by the LIGO facilities 7 milliseconds apart, allowing us to roughly determine the origin of the merger, which was somewhere in the southern sky. To put in perspective how incredibly powerful this merger was, aside from instantly converting 3 suns worth of matter into pure energy, is that it’s total power output (energy per unit time) was 50 times as much as the power output of the entire visible universe. Every star, galaxy, everything combined, times 50. Mind Blowing. It lasted a fraction of a second but it was 100% real. Talk about truth being stranger than fiction.
If you convert the signal into sound waves – you can actually hear the ‘chirp’ of two black holes merging. I think it’s more of a pop, but either way it’s the sound of a universe-shaking event.
Whether there is a nobel prize for the LIGO collaboration in the future or not, the discovery highlights the fact that Physics, Astronomy, and exploration of space are in a renaissance right now. We are in the thick of the greatest period of discovery humanity has seen since the birth of quantum mechanics. Exoplanet explosion, a mission to Pluto, commercial spaceflight, the Higgs Boson, gravitational waves, and the merger of two black holes, all in the past 5 years.
What a time to be alive!