Ripples in the space-time continuum

Ripples in space-time. Image: Penn State, Creative Commons, some rights reserved

The news in physics is he-EW-jah! this week. Einstein was right! Gravitational waves detected! Science journalists are foaming at the mouth. And how do we know? Because a billion years ago two super-massive black holes sucked each other in and the aftermath of that collision is reaching Earth just in time for its hairless ape inhabitants to have learned how to build something fancy enough to notice.

I’m a hopeless science weenie, so I love this stuff. But it’s all pretty deep juju for an English major. Everything I really understand about gravity I learned from falling off the roof. The very theory of black holes is as opaque to me as the theology of transubstantiation. And don’t get me started on string theory.

I do make an effort to understand. There were times when I was reading Stephen Hawking’s book “A Brief History of Time” when it all seemed to come together. Just for a moment it all made sense. And the next moment it all collapsed back into itself; not even intelligence could escape from the black hole of my brain.

Hawking famously said, “We are just an advanced breed of monkeys on a minor planet of a very average star. But we can understand the Universe.” Some of us, maybe.

Ripples in the space-time continuum will remain among the many things I have to take on faith, like electricity, the functions of my iPhone, chaos theory, and the redeeming power of love.


8 Comments on “Ripples in the space-time continuum”

  1. Kate Schubart says:

    Hale Dale, who is willing to say what most people would rather die than admit. Of course my question, after listening to the media coverage, is still, ‘Just what will this new discovery do or make possible that will ease the sufferings of those hairless apes on Planet Earth, medically or economically?’ Not that I begrudge the happiness that you could hear in the voices of those who participated in this Big Win for Science. I will keep myself honest by pledging to follow this story and to eat my words when I hear that this breakthrough has led to some down-to-earth inventions or cures.

  2. Pete Klein says:

    I side with Kate. This is all very interesting but so what?
    I love watching the Big Bang on TV. and what I come away with is how the smartest person in the room, Sheldon, has a hard time living life, while the least intelligent, Penny, is the most loving and even manages to be the most compassionate towards Sheldon.

  3. T Price says:

    well, it’s like this. at this time, this new information is theoretical knowledge. not theoretical in the sense that it’s not tangible. we have confirmed the existence of gravity waves. but theoretical in the sense that, you’re right, it doesn’t save lives, ease suffering, etc. but before anything can become concrete, at least from a hairless ape perspective, one has to imagine it, take matter and transform it into something akin to what has been imagined, and apply it. it starts with an idea, the idea is explored and found to have a relationship with the world of matter, if an idea is itself not matter, and then it is shaped into something though the manipulation of matter. short of that, it may be the beginning of another arena of ten thousand questions, which are interesting in and of themselves, because I want to know. Inquiring minds want to know. That is useful too. Because you never know when something might jump out of that soup and save lives and ease suffering or who knows, a question might get answered. so you can check that question off your list as you’re adding more. Success!

  4. Ken Hall says:

    Kate and Pete, the 2 LIGOs detected the extraordinarily powerful gravity waves from the incorporation of two black holes into one and provided the hairless apes of Earth with a few, some of us think, important concepts. 1. It reinforced the validity of Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (GTR) 2. Demonstrated a method with which to directly detect/image/record Gravity waves. 3 Points the way toward the development of instrumentation which may/(likely will) lead to the capability to detect somewhat less robust ripples in the space/time continuum.

    In the short run what the LIGOs may do is enable Cosmologists to view the behavior of the universe at the earliest times after the Big Bang. Currently our mechanisms to view the Universe rely on the electromagnetic radiation (EMR) from heat (IR) to the highest energy Gamma rays. Until about 300,000 years after the Big Bang the universe was a plasma because it was too hot for electrons and protons to bind together and form hydrogen and unfortunately for us a plasma is opaque to EMR; therefore, we cannot peer beyond the plasma state with EMR. The good news is that the plasma does not stop gravity waves and the delight of Cosmologists with the success of the LIGO is that with a way to detect gravity waves they may in the not too distant future devise methods to peer into the heart of the universe and suss more and more about the mysterious universe we are inhabitants of.

    As to helping out the current vastly over abundant population of humans on Spaceship Earth not a likely outcome from the LIGO programs. If the humans want to do the maximum they can to help themselves and the Earth it is simple STOP PROCREATING at an exponential rate and reduce the human population by about 90%. If they are not interested then my guess is they might as well bend over and kiss it good bye.

  5. Mark Fuerst says:


    I’m was laughing so hard, someone on the street asked me if if was alright.

    A gem.

  6. Pete Klein says:

    What I am truly curious about is what was happening before the Big Bang.
    As long as we are playing with theory here, my theory is that a previous universe came to an end and resulted in the Big Bang. From that theory it would be logical to conclude that this universe will eventually come to an end and create the next Big Bang, quickly followed by the next universe.
    Only time will tell and we won’t be around to know of it.
    Which reminds me of the Tarot and how you start with the Fool and end up with the unification of the World, followed by the Fool. Round and around we go.

  7. Ken Hall says:

    Pete, If you are indeed curious about what was before the Big Bang then you should be four-square behind projects such as the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) which as I pointed out may enable Cosmologists to look back in time to the inception of the Big Bang.

    If you are interested enough to delve into the current speculations by theoretical physicists, cosmologists and astrophysicists I urge you, once again, to view some of the myriad of videos on YouTube presented by folks such as Lawrence Krauss, Brian Green, Neil De Grasse Tyson and a host of other eminent scientists. I think not that you would be disappointed in as much as they are entertaining and informative.

  8. Kent Gregson says:

    Folks felt the same way about the “uncertainty factor” which eventually gave us the vacuum tube and cathode ray tube or television.

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