News, Science

“Gravitational Waves” Detected For The First Time

Merging BlackHoles. Image: NASA
Merging Black Holes. Image: NASA

There are many people who study the universe, and try to understand it. One of the most famous was Albert Einstein.

Before he died (back in 1955), he came up with many “theories” — really good guesses — about what happens in the universe.

Often, theories are made because there is no way scientists can prove certain things. For instance, things in the universe are so far away, they’re hard to see or measure. So scientists (known as physicists) put together the things that they know, and then make excellent guesses.

Last week, scientists discovered something that adds some evidence to Einstein’s most famous theory, “relativity.”

It’s extremely complicated, but essentially what today’s scientists saw were “gravitational waves.” They are believed to have been caused by two black holes in the universe coming together (merging)–more than 1.3 billion years ago.

That merger, or joining, of the two black holes created a “gravitational wave.” The waves, in this case, cannot be detected by the human eye; scientists “captured” the space wave using very sophisticated equipment.

The scientists work at a special lab where they study things that happen in space. It’s known as LIGO, which stands for the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory.

Again, the science is extremely complicated, but Wikipedia defines “gravitational waves” as “ripples in the curvature of spacetime.” They’re a bit like the ripples that happen in a pond when you throw a pebble in. Except you can’t see these with normal eyesight.

Scientists all over the world are very excited about the discovery of the gravitational waves. “We did it!” said David Reitze, the head of LIGO, at a press conference in Washington last week.

It is also the first time two black holes coming together have been detected. That’s known as a “binary” black hole. (Binary, in this case, means “involving two things.”)

Scientists made the discovery using new equipment that was even more sophisticated (complex) than the equipment they have been using before. A few weeks after they started using the new equipment they made the discovery, but many scientists spent months making sure their calculations were correct before making any kind of announcement, according to The Guardian newspaper.

Scientists hope the discovery will tell them more about how stars are created, and how they are destroyed.

By Jonathan Tilly

Writing/Discussion Prompt
Today’s article explains what a theory is and how it’s made. However, today’s article also suggests that the difference between a good or bad theory depends on the information it is based on.

What theories do you have about how our world works? Are your theories based on what you know as fact? 

Reading Prompt: Reading Unfamiliar Words
Today’s article contains many words that are technical and not commonly used. However, that may not have interfered with your ability to understand the article. Reread the article and underline all of the technical words that are new to you.

What strategy did you use in order to make sense of the article, even without a technical understanding of these terms?

Junior & Intermediate
Predict the meaning of and rapidly solve unfamiliar words using different types of cues, including: syntactic (language structure) cues (e.g., word order, language patterns, punctuation); (OME, Reading: 3.2).

Language Feature: Parentheses (  )
Parentheses or brackets are used in order to tell readers extra information. The extra information contained inside the parentheses can be many types of things. For example, the statements inside the parentheses can explain something important, or tell something that is fun, interesting, or really not important at all, it depends.

Add a statement inside these parentheses to get a feel for how they work.

  1. She gave me some money ( _____________________________ ).
  2. Steven and his dog ( _____________________________ ) are great companions.
  3. The students ( _____________________________ ) were late!
  4. I need a hammer ( _____________________________ ), please.
  5. He was whispering ( _____________________________ ).