Gravitational Waves have been detected, but what are they?

If you have been reading or watching the news in the past week, you may have noticed the announcement that gravitational waves have been detected at the Background Imaging of Cosmic Extragalactic Polarization (BICEP) detector located at the South Pole. But what is a gravitational wave? And what does its discovery mean for science in the future?

Let’s start with its origin. Gravitational waves were first predicted by Albert Einstein (who else?) as part of his General Theory of Relativity, in which he predicted that when large objects in the universe accelerated, they would produce a ripple of gravitational waves as a result, much like the ripple of water on the surface of a pond. This has remained a theory ever since, but now that the waves have been detected they can help us answer more questions about the birth of the universe.

The nutty professor himself...
The nutty professor himself…
The ripples of gravitational waves
The ripples of gravitational waves

For those that are regular reader of my blog, you may recall that we can still detect the remnants of the big bang, currently known as the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMBR). However, this radiation only came about 400,000 years after the big bang, which leaves us with less information about the time before that. (My big bang blog is here :

The map of the temperature of the universe Cosmic Wave Background Radiation
The  Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation

This is why gravitational waves are so important. Since the waves are caused by large objects accelerating, then the strength of the signal from a wave can provide us with information about the first moments of the Big Bang, when the universe expanded and accelerated across enormous distances. Information about the amount of energy produced at the time could also be calculated should it be found that the gravitational waves appear with different wavelengths. This information could provide us with an entire new picture of what actually happened when our universe was created.

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