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Video: Chicago Physicist Explains Gravitational Wave Discovery In 2 Minutes

By Rachel Cromidas in News on Feb 11, 2016 8:28PM

Groundbreaking news has been ringing through the scientific community Thursday, thanks to the historic announcement that a team of physicists' have detected gravitational waves for the first time and confirming Albert Einstein's iconic theory of relativity.

Specifically, the team of more than 1,000 scientists from around the country have heard and recorded the faint chirp-like echo of two black holes colliding in space a billion light-years away. The discovery is being heralded as the first time scientists have been able to observe the universe with their hearing, as opposed to sight.

As Associate Professor Daniel Holz of the University of Chicago explains in a video shared by the university online:

"There are two black holes orbiting around each other, and they get closer and closer and start going faster and faster, until they actually merge in a big burst of gravitation waves. And we've heard that whole process."

"Einstein, when he wrote his theory of gravity a hundred years ago, made certain predictions, and this is one of the most important predictions in his theory, that gravitational waves exist," he adds. "We have now directly confirmed those. For the first time we have a way to listen to the universe, and that's very exciting."


Holz is part of a group of four Chicago scientists working on the project, known as LIGO, or the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. His teammates include Ben Farr, a McCormick Fellow in the Enrico Fermi Institute, and graduate students Hsin-Yu Chen and Zoheyr Doctor (pictured above). The team has been working on taking the signals detected by LIGO and writing statements about them—i.e. "These were two black holes, these masses merged a billion light years away."

"Making that statement is difficult, and we've played a major role in that process," Holz says.

Two Northwestern University astrophysicists, professors Vicky Kalogera and Shane Larson, were also part of the discovery. They explain the groundbreaking news in a slightly longer video that we also recommend for a more detailed description of the discovery and its significance:

Northwestern University Experts Explain Discovery of Gravitational Waves from Northwestern News on Vimeo.