LIGO’s Big News About Einstein, Black Holes and Gravitational Waves FOR DUMMIES
LIGO is an observatory at Hanford and it stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory. It has mirrors buried underground for hundreds of yards trying to measure the stretching of matter. On Feb. 11, 2016 it announced that it has confirmed with its sister site in Louisiana that it felt a "stretch" on Sept. 15, 2015, that was indeed a gravitational wave. This confirms one of Albert Einstein's theories about gravity... that it ties together the universe like a fabric, or like Jell-O in which everything sits and is affected by.
Einstein's Theory of Relativity says mass can be converted to energy, but it releases a lot of energy. That inspired the nuclear age. That idea also means when Black Holes swallow suns, or each other, the impact to that fabric or Jell-O that binds everything should be huge. There should be a ripple effect throughout the universe... and we should be able to sense it here on Earth.
The theory is it would compress and stretch matter throughout the universe, but on Earth the wave's impact would only be the size of a fraction of a PROTON (subatomic particle)!
It has taken years to calibrate the mirrors at LIGO so it doesn't pick up the vibration of trucks, trains, and earthquakes. Then, when it felt the movement on Sept. 15 our Hanford observatory had to collaborate with the Louisiana station.
The cool thing about having two stations, is they can triangulate their locations to estimate where the waves came from.
The LIGO scientists believes the waves came from two black holes colliding and converting mass equivalent to three of our suns into energy in a fraction of a second. The black holes were huge and the event happened more than a billion years ago.
Scientists are so excited about this because we can't currently see black holes, and they don't release radio waves or radiation or anything else that would allow us to measure and detect them. We estimate their existence, size and movement based on their impact on the timespace gravity fabric/Jell-O.
But these gravitational waves are detectable and measurable. That means we can now "hear" black holes. Some people say it's like gaining a sixth sense. Some say it's as monumental as when astronomers invented telescopes powerful enough to confirm the existence of planets. The impact on history could even be as big as when Sir Isaac Newton defined gravity.