Almost 100 years ago, Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves — i-e ripples in the fabric of space-time that are set off by extremely violent, cosmic disasters in the early universe.
With his knowledge of the universe and the technology available in 1916, Einstein assumed that such ripples would be “vanishingly small” and nearly impossible to detect.
The astronomical discoveries and technological advances over the past century have changed those prospects.
Now for the first time, scientists in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration have directly observed the ripples of gravitational waves in an instrument on Earth.
By doing this observation, they have again dramatically confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity and opened up a new way to view the universe.
This finding is something similar to invention of telescope by Galileo around 400 years back.
The scientists have also decoded the gravitational wave signal and determined its source. According to their calculations, the gravitational wave is the product of a collision between two massive black holes, 1.3 billion light years away — a remarkably extreme event that has not been observed until now.
The researchers detected the signal with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) — twin detectors carefully constructed to detect incredibly tiny vibrations from passing gravitational waves. Once the researchers obtained a gravitational signal, they converted it into audio waves and listened to the sound of two black holes spiraling together, then merging into a larger single black hole.
They determined that the black holes, 30 times as massive as our sun, circled each other at close to the speed of light before fusing in a collision and giving off an enormous amount of energy equivalent to about three solar masses — according to Einstein’s equation E=mc2 — in the form of gravitational waves.
Most of that energy is released in just a few tenths of a second.
For a very short amount of time, the actual power in gravitational waves was higher than all the light in the visible universe.
These waves then rippled through the universe, effectively warping the fabric of space-time, before passing through Earth more than a billion years later as faint traces of their former, violent origins.
LIGO is a joint project between scientists at MIT, Caltech, and many other colleges and universities. Scientists involved in the project and the analysis of the data for gravitational-wave astronomy are organised by the LIGO Scientific Collaboration which includes more than 900 scientists worldwide. LIGO is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF)
LIGO operates two gravitational wave observatories in unison: the LIGO Livingston Observatory in Livingston, Louisiana, and the LIGO Hanford Observatory located near Richland, Washington. Each observatory supports an L-shaped ultra high vacuum system, measuring 4 kilometers on each side.
Imagine digital cameras or smartphones without the bulky lenses, or eyeglasses with lenses that are paper thin.
Researchers have always thought that flat, ultrathin optical lenses for cameras or other devices were impossible because of the way all the colors of light must bend through them. Consequently, photographers have had to put up with more cumbersome and heavier curved lenses. But University of Utah electrical and computer engineering professor Rajesh Menon and his team have developed a new method of creating optics that are flat and thin yet can still perform the function of bending light to a single point, the basic step in producing an image.
Instead of the lens having a curvature, it can be very flat so you get completely new design opportunities for imaging systems like the ones in your mobile phone
Results of this research correct a widespread misconception that flat, diffractive lenses cannot be corrected for all colors simultaneously.
In order to capture a photographic image in a camera, or for your eyes to focus on an image through eyeglasses, the different colors of light must pass through the lenses and converge to a point on the camera sensor or on the eye’s retina.
How light bends through curved lenses is based on the centuries-old concept known as refraction, a principle that is similar to when you put a pencil in a glass of water and notice that it “bends” in the water. To do this, cameras typically will use a stack of multiple curved lenses in order to focus all of the colors of light to a single point.
Multiple lenses are needed because different colors bend differently, and they are designed to ensure that all colors come to the same focus.
Menon and his team discovered a way to design a flat lens that can be 10 times thinner than the width of a human hair or millions of times thinner than a camera lens today. They do it through a principle known as diffraction in which light interacts with microstructures in the lens and bends.
In nature, we see this when you look at certain butterfly wings. The color of the wings is from diffraction. If you look at a rainbow, it’s from diffraction
Menon’s researchers use specially created algorithms to calculate the geometry of a lens so different colors can pass through it and focus to a single point. The resulting lens, called a “super-achromatic lens,” can be made of any transparent material such as glass or plastic.
Other applications of this potential lens system include medical devices in which thinner and lighter endoscopes can peer into the human body. It also could be used for drones or satellites with lighter cameras in which reducing weight is critical. Future smartphones could come with high-powered cameras that don’t require the lens jetting out from the phone’s thin body.
Now that Menon and his team have proved the concept can work, he believes the first applications of their research could become a reality within five years.
- National Engineering College, nalatinputhur, kovilpati, indiapresent
- TMB McAvoy School, ottapidaram, Tuticorin District, India
- John the baptist Hr. Sec. School, Puthiamputhur, Tuticorin District, India
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