Listen to a Physicist Explain Gravitational Waves (in a Way You'll Understand)

Earlier this month, physicists at LIGO (the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory) announced that, after many decades of searching, they had finally detected gravitational waves. Still not really sure what that means? Theoretical physicist Brian Greene recently stopped by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to make sense of the Earth-rippling news, The Week reports

Albert Einstein first predicted gravitational waves 100 years ago, and Greene tells Colbert that the confirmation of his ideas opens up “a whole new way of exploring the universe.” Using graphics, Greene explains that gravitational waves are the result of massive objects like the Sun causing ripples in the fabric of space, much like a bowling ball on a trampoline or a pebble in a pond. Those waves spread out, passing through other objects in the universe, stretching and compressing them as they do.

In the video above, you can see a model of the device scientists used to detect the waves, though Greene and Colbert use sound waves ("Science!") instead of gravitational waves to trigger the sensor. 

If you haven’t picked up on this yet, the discovery of gravitational waves is a huge deal, as we explained on February 11, when the official announcement was made. (Rumors were swirling for months before thanks to a provocative tweet by physicist Lawrence Krauss.) Greene tells Colbert that gravitational waves “herald a revolution in our understanding of the universe” because, for one thing, they can go somewhere light can't: black holes. Gravitational waves might be the key for us to get inside and map what we can't see within those massive question marks in space.

Check out the video above to hear more about the discovery and best of all, a simulation of the sound of two black holes colliding. As Greene says, “those sounds are the future of studying the cosmos.” You can also listen to a more Earthbound remix.

Images via YouTube

[h/t The Week]

By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
Photo of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett, Purchased for $10, Could Be Worth Millions
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons
By Ben Wittick (1845–1903) - Brian Lebel's Old West Show and Auction, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Several years ago, Randy Guijarro paid $2 for a few old photographs he found in an antiques shop in Fresno, California. In 2015, it was determined that one of those photos—said to be the second verified picture ever found of Billy the Kid—could fetch the lucky thrifter as much as $5 million. That story now sounds familiar to Frank Abrams, a lawyer from North Carolina who purchased his own photo of the legendary outlaw at a flea market in 2011. It turns out that the tintype, which he paid $10 for, is thought to be an image of Billy and Pat Garrett (the sheriff who would eventually kill him) taken in 1880. Like Guijarro’s find, experts say Abrams’s photo could be worth millions.

The discovery is as much a surprise to Abrams as anyone. As The New York Times reports, what drew Abrams to the photo was the fact that it was a tintype, a metal photographic image that was popular in the Wild West. Abrams didn’t recognize any of the men in the image, but he liked it and hung it on a wall in his home, which is where it was when an Airbnb guest joked that it might be a photo of Jesse James. He wasn’t too far off.

Using Google as his main research tool, Abrams attempted to find out if there was any famous face in that photo, and quickly realized that it was Pat Garrett. According to The New York Times:

Then, Mr. Abrams began to wonder about the man in the back with the prominent Adam’s apple. He eventually showed the tintype to Robert Stahl, a retired professor at Arizona State University and an expert on Billy the Kid.

Mr. Stahl encouraged Mr. Abrams to show the image to experts.

William Dunniway, a tintype expert, said the photograph was almost certainly taken between 1875 and 1880. “Everything matches: the plate, the clothing, the firearm,” he said in a phone interview. Mr. Dunniway worked with a forensics expert, Kent Gibson, to conclude that Billy the Kid and Mr. Garrett were indeed pictured.

Abrams, who is a criminal defense lawyer, described the process of investigating the history of the photo as akin to “taking on the biggest case you could ever imagine.” And while he’s thrilled that his epic flea market find could produce a major monetary windfall, don’t expect to see the image hitting the auction block any time soon. 

"Other people, they want to speculate from here to kingdom come,” Abrams told The New York Times of how much the photo, which he has not yet had valuated, might be worth. “I don’t know what it’s worth. I love history. It’s a privilege to have something like this.”

[h/t: The New York Times]

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