Gravitational Waves: Einstein Was Right, Again, Maybe

Cosmologists hope for a field-rocking announcement next week.
exploding star

Observing a star up close (putting aside for a moment how you'd get there or withstand its heat) is probably like sitting beside an enormous silent fire. Sounds—which are simply pressure variations in a medium such as air or water—can't propagate in the vacuum of space, so the roiling surface of a A supernova, however, just might be the most brutal concert in the universe. When a star explodes, the massive detonation expels stellar material far into space, and that matter could theoretically provide a medium through which sound vibrations might travel. Assuming you survived the blast—the initial shock wave would travel up to 20,000 miles per second and carry 1044 joules of energy—it would sound like "10 octillion two-megaton thermonuclear devices detonated simultaneously," says Charles Liu, an astrophysicist at the City University of New York College of Staten Island. "When those guts hit your eardrums, you'll hear it. That is, as long as your eardrums stay attached." Send your science questions to Sally Younger

Bang! Supernova SN 2006gy

What’s the latest cosmology gossip? According to the Guardian, the field is awash with rumors that next week, American scientists will announce the detection of gravitational waves: incredibly small ripples carrying energy across the void of the universe. reports simply that at a press conference scheduled for 12:00 noon EDT on Monday, March 17, “[A] team of scientists will unveil what they bill as a ‘major discovery’ in the field of astrophysics…at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.”

Predicted by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity, gravitational waves are speculated to be “an echo of the big bang [sic] in which the universe came into existence 14bn year ago,” writes the Guardian, which caught an echo of the intense excitement that seems to be swirling among scientists with these and other quotes:

This seems to be a fantastic moment in time to be a physicist. In addition to this possible discovery of gravitational waves, theorists are still digesting data gathered in 2012 from the Large Hadron Collider, including proof of the existence of the elusive Higgs particle. That’s the story covered in the engrossing new film “Particle Fever,” which you should definitely go see.