“New Quest to Explore the Dark Side of the Universe” –Kip Thorne & the LIGO Discovery





"With this discovery, we humans are embarking on a marvelous new quest: the quest to explore the warped side of the universe—objects and phenomena that are made from warped spacetime. Colliding black holes and gravitational waves are our first beautiful examples," says Kip Thorne, Caltech's Richard P. Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, emeritus. The image below  is Kip Thorne's amazing view of this newly revealed dark side of the universe.

In June 2009, Thorne resigned his Feynman Professorship (becoming the Feynman Professor of Theoretical Physics, Emeritus) in order to ramp up a new career in writing, movies, and continued scientific research. His most recent major movie project was Interstellar. Thorne was the film's science advisor and an executive producer. His principal current research is an exploration of the nonlinear dynamical behaviors of curved spacetime, using computer simulations and analytical calculations.


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Thorne's research has focused on gravitation physics and astrophysics, with emphasis on relativistic stars, black holes and gravitational waves. In the late 1960's and early 70's he laid the foundations for the theory of pulsations of relativistic stars and the gravitational waves they emit. During the 70's and 80's he developed mathematical formalism by which astrophysicists analyze the generation of gravitational waves and worked closely with Vladimir Braginsky, Ronald Drever and Rainer Weiss on developing new technical ideas and plans for gravitational wave detection.




Thorne is a co-founder (with Weiss and Drever) of the LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) Project and he chaired the steering committee that led LIGO in its earliest years (1984–87). In the 1980s, 90s and 2000s he and his research group have provided theoretical support for LIGO, including identifying gravitational wave sources that LIGO should target, laying foundations for data analysis techniques by which their waves are being sought, designing the baffles to control scattered light in the LIGO beam tubes, and — in collaboration with Vladimir Braginsky's (Moscow Russia) research group — inventing quantum-nondemolition designs for advanced gravity-wave detectors.

"We had thought the first signal would be some little small thing poking up out of the noise and we'd have to work really hard to understand what it was," Nergis Mavalvala – the Curtis and Kathleen Marble Professor of Astrophysics and the Associate Department Head of Physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and a member of the MIT Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research (MKI). "But in fact, the signal we got is a very clean and beautiful event. It tells us that the binary black holes were located about 1.5 billion light years away. They whirled around each other at nearly the speed of light before a collision that was so powerful, it converted approximately three times the mass of the Sun into gravitational wave energy—in just a few tenths of a second!"




"To me, this detection means that the stars are no longer silent," says Matthew Evans – is an Assistant Professor of Physics at MIT as well as a member of MKI. His work centers on gravitational wave detector science, The frequencies of gravitational waves that LIGO is designed to detect are actually in the human audible range. So when we're working on LIGO, we often take its output and put it on a speaker and just listen to it. For this binary black hole system, it made a distinctive, rising "whoooop!" sound. It's not that we just look up and see anymore, like we always have—we actually can listen to the universe now. It's a whole new sense, and humanity did not have this sense until LIGO was built."




"We often whistled to demonstrate what we thought these smashing black holes might sound like, and it turns out if you play the piano or a keyboard, you can also make a similar sound," said Rainer Weiss – is a Professor of Physics, Emeritus at MIT, among the first to explore the kind of instrumentation necessary to detect gravitational waves and proposed the LIGO project with two colleagues in the 1980s. "Do you know what a glissando is? It's when you run your fingers very quickly across the keys. If you started at the bottom of a keyboard and went all the way to the middle C and then hold that note for a little bit—that's what this black hole signal happened to be. "I keep telling people I'd love to be able to see Einstein's face right now."

The existence of gravitational waves was first demonstrated in the 1970s and 80s by Joseph Taylor, Jr., and colleagues. Taylor and Russell Hulse discovered in 1974 a binary system composed of a pulsar in orbit around a neutron star. Taylor and Joel M. Weisberg in 1982 found that the orbit of the pulsar was slowly shrinking over time because of the release of energy in the form of gravitational waves. For discovering the pulsar and showing that it would make possible this particular gravitational wave measurement, Hulse and Taylor were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1993.

The Daily Galaxy via Caltech, MIT,  Kavli Institute for Astrophysics, and Space Research

Image credit: LIGO detects gravitational waves from merging black holes, LIGO, NSF, Aurore Simonet; Kip Thorne, Interstellar 


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