Another historic challenge for the scientific community has fallen by the wayside: the search for the elusive gravitational waves predicted by Einstein and crucial to the Big Bang Theory (the real one—not the TV show) has ended in success.
A team of astrophysicists announced this week that their exotic equipment based at the South Pole has detected variations in the universe’s microwave background radiation that are polarized, made that way by ripples in the fabric of space-time caused by gravitational waves produced in the great expansion that followed the Big Bang. No-one’s ever detected gravitational waves themselves since Einstein described them in his Theory of General Relativity ninety-nine years ago, but this is the strongest evidence yet of their existence. The scientists spent three years crunching the data to eliminate every other possibility for what they found. More than that, the existence of these gravitational waves gives a huge boost to what’s known as the Inflationary Universe Theory: that in the first trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, the universe expanded to something approaching what we see now. So a double whammy for the South Pole observation unit, and two major milestones achieved in one stroke.
This comes not all that long after the discovery of the Higgs Boson in the summer of 2012 at the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland. Called the “holy grail” of particle physics, the Higgs Boson (and the omnipresent Higgs Field) are what give objects mass. Their existence was predicted back in 1964 but forty-eight years passed before it could be proven (after which the originators of the idea received a Nobel Prize). Even a few years ago, some wondered if gravitational waves and the Higgs Boson would ever be found. I’m reminded that the proof of extraterrestrial planets is only a few years old, too, though now there have been hundreds discovered, and it’s generally thought that they far outnumber stars in the galaxy.
It makes me wonder: if the great scientific quests of our time are all being achieved, will we suddenly have a whole lot of physicists out of work? There must be something we can put their talents to. Wormholes and black holes are still sexy. How about the multiverse theory (so we can escape climate change to an Earth we haven’t screwed up yet)? Or with so much brainpower on hand, surely time travel isn’t an insurmountable problem? OK—maybe that one is too risky, but at the very least they’ve got to find a way to give us faster-than-light travel or we’ll never get to see any of our own galactic neighbourhood, let alone the rest of the universe.
Or maybe, just maybe, they can go to work on the true unsolvables: why buttered toast always lands face down, and where single socks go when they vanish from the clothes dryer.
Just trying to help