Gravitational Waves Will Literally Warp Your Mind

Brian Greene explains gravitational waves to Stephen Colbert February 2016

So, science fiction has given us enough experience with things like gravitational waves and folded space for us to know that it’s all very scientific, and extremely futuristic.  Remember, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar dealt with cosmology, and asked us to take it very seriously.  But, recent research has proved that the fabric of space is not all that futuristic, and, if Stephen Colbert has anything to say about it, not to be taken all that seriously.

This is not to say that gravitational waves aren’t real.  In fact, research has just proved that they are.  But, through the magic of comedy, Colbert and Brian Greene, a theoretical physicist, have made them completely understandable to regular people (ie. people who aren’t astrophysicists).

What are Gravitational Waves?

They’re being touted as a recent discovery, but research into gravitational waves was actually pioneered by none other than Albert Einstein exactly 100 years ago.  As Colbert so eloquently puts it, scientists today are doing Einstein’s century-old homework.

Nevertheless, modern technology has been able to prove what Einstein could only theorise.  That is, the fabric of space is able to be bent by gravity, and that Earth is subject to these forces.

Greene asks people to imagine space like the taut surface of a trampoline.  If the sun is in the centre of the surface, it is creating ripples which expand outwards from it.  Earth and the other planets are rolling around in these ripples, which makes it possible for the planets to orbit the sun.  However, multiple ripples cause a vibration of sorts, like feet running on a trampoline.

The ripples created in space resonate back to Earth, and affect the shape of our planet on multiple axes.  However, before you start panicking, the movement created by space waves only changes the Earth’s shape by 1 atomic diameter.

Even so, this breakthrough will allow scientists to make accurate models of certain cosmic occurrences, which will greatly help the study of the universe in the near future.  But, when it comes to the rendering of space sounds, Stephen Colbert proves that there is a little grandeur to be desired.

Through the fact that two black holes colliding might sound like that popping sound you make when you flip your finger out of your cheek, the main takeaway of the gravitational research is that the universe, much like Colbert himself, seems to have a wicked sense of humour.

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