The world's first "gravity receivers".
There is much else to write about this, but I wrote the following in response to a friend's question about the importance of the discovery and felt it worth sharing:
I get that observing gravitational waves is a big deal. But can someone enlighten me on how this new observation is going to make anyone's life better??? #WhyImInPublicHealth
It is an increment in a >6-century-long process of replacing ignorance and superstition with testable, tested theories. All of the scientific and technological progress - and most of the political and economic progress - during that period arises from this process. Progress in these spheres is the raw material of making people's lives better; without them, not only can most lives not be improved, almost everyone gets much worse off pretty quickly. If we wish to continue to improve people's lives, we need to continue to improve science, technology, economics and governance.
It might be interesting to consider why the LIGO results are getting so much attention given that, indeed, they don't directly put food into the mouths of starving people or into the hands of aid-workers. I'd suggest that it's because this hits or approaches multiple superlatives:
- The paper announcing it credits more than 1,000 authors. It's one of the largest collaborations in the history of science.
- It's the last major untested consequence of the most extraordinary theory ever put forward (extraordinary in the sense of counter-intuitive results predicted and tested). Further, the results matched theory at >5σ first time. This is downright astonishing given the circumstances, including that the instruments were still in their run-up phase and - strictly speaking - hadn't started their physics work.
- They are the most sensitive instruments of any kind ever produced by human beings.
- The class of event that was measured is, so far as we know, amongst the most powerful events in the universe. In fact, for the final instant, this event was emitting more energy than the rest of the universe combined, by almost two orders of magnitude. We are for the first time able to see an entire category of immense phenomena, a category directly relevant to sorting out cosmology's "dark-X" placeholders.
You didn't ask this latter question. I'm inferring a feeling on your part that the LIGO results are getting excessive attention but would suggest that the attention is well and truly warranted.
The broader importance though, as above, is that this is part of a continuing process of ongoing progress on multiple fronts which yields measurable improvements in people's lives more by indirect means than by obvious, direct ones. We already know what happens to societies that turn their back on this process (think: 12th century Baghdad), it would be catastrophic for this process to be stopped simply because of the indirect connection between its outputs and the improvements in people's lives.
Originally posted at https://rolandturner.com/2016/02/13/importance-of-LIGO-results