The Story Of Gravitational Waves

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

….two black holes were doing a cosmic waltz. As they pirouetted around each other they grew ever closer and span ever faster. The result of their inevitable coming together was cataclysmic. They instantly gave off more energy than an average star might in 15 trillion years. Three solar masses worth of matter were instantaneously turned into pure energy and went flooding out into the universe at the speed of light….

….more than a billion years later a group of determined Engineers and Physicists had built two identical Machines. They wanted to test an idea. A century beforehand a wise man who had never conducted an experiment thought long and hard about gravity and what its true nature might be. Using nothing more than his mind and a chalkboard he devised an equation that seemed to explain his idea. He posited that gravity wasn’t a force at all, that, in actual fact, the very fabric of the universe itself could be warped by anything that had mass….

….the Machine was completed just in time. The gravitational waves created by the black hole impact were just arriving at their world. But they had diminished, after more than a billion years of intergalactic travel the waves had lost most of their force. They still moved at the speed of light but they now stretched space-time by an unimaginably small distance, only one ten thousandth the width of a proton….

….but the Engineers were ready. Their twin Machines each had 1,600km of lasers splitting and recombining. If the universe stretched, by even an infinitesimal amount, their lasers would be pulled out of sync along with it and a feint glow would be detected echoing the long dead energy burst of eons past….

….another wise man, who could neither talk nor walk, thought carefully about the black holes. He had already shown the Physicists that they were wrong. He, too, had used abstract thought and strange symbols to explain that black holes could die. The Physicists and Engineers believed in the symbols but they wanted to see the ideas for themselves, and that is why they built the Machines….

….the Engineers pooled the resources of their planet and built ever more complicated Machines to test the symbols, but the symbols were never wrong. So it was that they realised that the most advanced Machine of all was the one the wise men used.


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