Watch: Physicist Brian Greene Explains How Gravitational Waves Were Detected to Stephen Colbert on the Late Show

Saturday, 27 February 2016 - 5:56PM
Astrophysics
Black Holes
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Saturday, 27 February 2016 - 5:56PM
Watch: Physicist Brian Greene Explains How Gravitational Waves Were Detected to Stephen Colbert on the Late Show
Perhaps the greatest scientific discovery to take place in the 21st century, the detection of gravitational waves has heralded the beginning of new era in physics and confirmed Einstein's century old general theory of relativity. As amazing as that is, many still don't quite understand what gravitational waves are or how anybody could have ever detected them. To help the general public understand the significance of such a discovery, many scientists, such as Brian Greene, have taken to the media to broadcast information regarding these gravitational waves.

Greene, who's a professor of physics at the prestigious Columbia University, recently appeared on the Late Show with Stephen Colbert to explain not only what gravitational waves are, but also how scientists were able to detect them.  



Greene explained that gravitational waves were predicted by Einstein 100 years ago and that they are essentially ripples in space time, causing it to compress and expand on the atomic level. Scientists have been looking for evidence of their existence for years, but only recently found such evidence.  

Greene went on to show how the waves were detected by demonstrating with a small configuration of lasers, which he explained would bounce back on to a surface, revealing an interference pattern from where two of the lasers canceled each other out. He then explained that the interference pattern would be altered by gravitational waves. This was further demonstrated using sound waves, as Colbert talked loudly near the lasers, causing the interference pattern on the reflected surface to change shape.  

It was definitely an interesting and effective way to show the public how LIGO was able to detect gravitational waves. Of course, there's a lot more physics involved in the real thing, but the simple configuration of lasers was enough to show the basics of the method that was used in the recent discovery.

All of this goes to show the beauty of Einstein's theory. He is held up everywhere and by everyone as the epitome of scientific genius, and for good reason. That's not to say that his theory was perfect, of course, as there are discrepancies between it and quantum mechanics - discrepancies which scientists have been working to resolve just as long as they've been trying to detect gravitational waves. With the discovery of these waves, however, it seems that developing a totally viable unified theory of physics is truly the one ultimate goal for the field of study today. Of course, that's been the case for years, but it could very well take a breakthrough of such proportions in order to take the top spot for the ultimate physics discovery of the 21st century after one of such magnitude as this.
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