Joe Jami, Mave Avala, Physicist discussed on Morning Edition
Kind of gigli matrix. And when two big things out in the universe, collide. They can send shockwaves through space time. They're like the ripples you make. When you toss a pebble into a pond being able to sense these. Waves is brand new for astronomy, which has spent centuries studying light Galileo invented the telescope used the telescope for the first time to do astronomy four hundred years ago and today, we're still beating better telescopes. I think this decade has been the beginning of gravitational wave astronomy. And she thinks it should just keep getting better. And better the United States has two facilities detecting, gravitational waves one in Washington state and one in Louisiana together, they are called lie. Go for the laser interferometer gravitational wave observatory I drove about an hour and a half north of New Orleans to see the one in rural Louisiana, the head of the observatory Joe Jami took me over to a display case to see a gold medal. People who win Nobel prizes can pay a little extra money in check a box and get a duplicate each site has one of these since the first detection of gravitational waves was such a big deal that the Nobel committee pretty much instantly honored. Three American physicists for their work on this project. We walk out onto a bridge that goes over a big concrete pipe from here. We see the pipe going off into the distance. And we can also see another pipe as well Jami says each is more than two miles long. They come together in a shape that from above looks like a capital L. I've spoken with pilots who fly over this. And they wonder why there's a pipeline that starts. Nowhere travels a couple of miles turns right? And then goes also nowhere inside each stretch of pipe is a powerful laser beam that bounces back and forth between mirrors scientists use. This laser to precisely measure the length of each arm of the L when a gravitational wave passes through and distort space the lengths change by a tiny tiny bit like a fraction of the width of a subatomic particle. We're in the control room now. And this is where all the activities of both the site and the detector monitored and controlled it's a windowless room with people sitting at dozens of computer monitors since the first historic detection three and a half years ago. This place has registered ten more gravitational wave events nine were black hole collisions and one was a pair of neutron stars smashing together. But the science has been shut down for more than a year that was to let researchers install new hardware and other upgrades the workers in here. Now are testing them out on April. First everything officially comes back online. Johnny says the US detectors, plus another one in Italy will all be more sensitive. So so far we've seen eleven things. Maybe we'll see twice that many this year, and they'll be better able to locate the source of the waves and the sky the team will send out public alerts. So that anyone can point their telescopes at the right spot in case like the neutron star. Collision the events sends out cosmic fireworks, thousands of astronomers and physicists around the world are now involved in studying gravitational waves because these offer the only way to explore some of the most powerful exotic events in the universe. And that's the fun of it. Nervous. Mave Avala is a physicist at MIT. We've only seen the handful of black. Hold up all the possible ones that are out there. There are many many questions we still don't know how to answer. Plus, maybe something completely unexpected. We'll go boom. That's how discovery happens. If you turn on a new instrument, you pointed out of the sky, and you see something that you had no idea existed. She says that's happened time and time again in astronomy, and she bets it happen for gravitational waves as well. Nell greenfieldboyce, NPR news. Let's focus on one of the effects of flooding in the mid west.