Gravitational Waves: An FAQ

by thoughtsonthedead

What are gravitational waves?

Ripples in spacetime caused by massive cosmic events.


Imagine a series of explosions, escalating in size. A little firecracker will shake the paper it lies on; a pipe bomb will rattle the house; a daisy cutter will shake the earth for miles around.

And this is bigger?

A little bit. Super-dense objects the size of the sun crashing into each other at half the speed of light.

That happens?


Space is terrifying.


So when these objects hit each other, it doesn’t just shake the house.

No, it sends out a shockwave through the fabric of spacetime.

What kind of fabric is spacetime?

Raw denim.

That’s so in right now.

I know, right?

Why do I always have to come in here and break these things up?

We’re not good at them.

Simply awful. Can’t stay on task.

Please get back to the Nobel-winning discovery that was announced today.



Okay, two black holes collide and make reality go wobble. Fine. Why does it matter?

A number of reasons, mostly having to do with Einstein.


The other one.

Honolulu Hank Einstein?

I’ll just continue. Anyway, Einstein predicted gravitational waves in his General Relativity. It’s a big part of the equation, but they hadn’t been able to prove it until now. If it were wrong, then the whole theory gets a bit rough. But, as always, Einstein has been proven correct.

He does that a lot.


How was this correctness proven?

Scientists had to invent a whole new instrument of detection called a LIGO.

What does that stand for?

Something scientific.

And what does it do?


I feel like you haven’t done the reading.

No, but I get the gist and that’s the truly exciting part. Everything else Einstein figured out has led to world-changing inventions and ideas the likes of which could never have been predicted at the theory’s writing.


Einstein said the atom was splittable: it was, and it continues to be. He didn’t know he was making a bomb. Time varies according to speed. From that knowledge comes the GPS system. We have no idea what this new understanding of the universe will turn into. Not only that, but we can’t know; if it’s like the rest of Einstein’s ideas, it will be impressive.

Question about Einstein: tools and instruments were so much cruder back then, so how did he come up with these things?

He sat at a wooden table and wrote them in a notebook with a pencil. Albert Einstein sat quietly in a small room and wrote down the universe.

Okay: lightning round.

Ooh, I love these. Go.

Can you surf these waves?


Is this the new title of Kanye’s album?


Does this have anything to do with permanent waves?

The hairdo or the Rush album?



What about amber waves?

Of grain or the fictional star of fictional pornographies from Boogie Nights?

Again: either.

Also no.

I think we’re done here.

We learned something!



Well, I got to be featured again. Nice to be back.


I hate you.