The Very Smallness of The Very Large

February 11, 2016

I have for several days been awaiting the announcement that gravitational waves have finally been detected. I had wondered whether the proof would be conclusive enough to sway all reasonable professional observers — and it is, definitively so.  This is a most remarkable achievement and will certainly earn the project’s leaders a Nobel Prize.

There will be much to say about the anticipated future results of this discovery — how, for example, we will be able to see the universe in a completely different “light” all the way back to the Big Bang before there was light. But for today, I am still entranced by the staggering degree of precision their experiments provide:

“….an instrument so sensitive it could detect a change in the distance between the solar system and the nearest star four light years away to the thickness of a human hair.”

Just try to think about that almost unimaginable degree of accuracy for a while. Moreover, their specific discovery — the collision and merger of two black holes 1.3 billion light years away — took place over just 20-thousandths of a second, a period of time so small that it really is unimaginable to the average person.

None of this will cure the housing bubble in Vancouver or improve the price of cauliflower or stop the damned tower being proposed on Commercial Drive. But the excitement this kind of thing generates shows that life is a lot more than just quotidian concerns.

Image: Knot

February 11, 2016