So, you all read my piece on gravitational waves, right? You didn’t!? Fucking hell, Randy. Well, here you go. I’ll wait.
TL;DR version: Einstein theorized the existence of gravitational waves over a hundred years ago, and they finally just detected them. To be fair, science was working on other stuff, and these waves are, technically speaking, Very Fucking Hard to perceive. Since the initial discovery, researchers have detected gravitational waves four additional times. All of these instances, so far, have originated with black holes, which, if you don’t already know, don’t produce any light. If you didn’t know that, glad to be of service. Now, go back to Hop on Pop and work your way up from there.
Now, stars! Stars, we can see (source: wait until night and look up). On August 17th, 2017, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (“LIGO”) and Virgo (European LIGO) detected gravitational waves (pretty ho-hum at this point). But wait! This time, two space telescopes from NASA and ESA (European NASA) detected short gamma-ray bursts in the same area in the sky as the gravitational waves. From the intensity of the waves, and the release of gamma radiation, astronomers were able to infer that the event was a collision of objects much smaller than black holes: neutron stars. The gamma bursts indicated that the collision resulted in a kilanova, because five-year-olds are in charge of naming things at NASA, and I am OK with that.
When the coincident time was noted, seventy observatories around the globe focused on the relevant 28-degree area of the sky, and measured the event across multiple wavelengths of light, from radio all the way up to x-ray. And, boy, did they find stuff. And things! Complicated science (don’t worry about it) was applied to the light waves that were detected, which revealed that the collision had produced gold and platinum. This is important: It had been theorized that neutron collisions could produce these heavy elements, but hadn’t been observed before. So, that really worked out. And since they knew the location of the collision, and the distance the gravitational waves had traveled, astronomers could use the waves to calculate the expansion of the universe, which also matched previous estimates. Neat!
With the advent of special and general relativity, physics has come far in the theoretical realm. The detection of gravitational waves has given us another “sense” with which to observe the universe. With this discovery, and the prospect of more neutron collisions to measure, we can finally confirm our pile of crazy assumptions, and make bold, new, crazier assumptions!