But my uncle's post called to me for some reason. It could have been the witty sentence structure, engineered into a delightfully intentional grammatical oversight, making my funny bone chuckle a warm and hearty hyuk yuk yuk. Or it could have been the fact that I usually feel compelled to "like" his submissions, as much for their genuine enjoyability as my hope that he'll "like" my material in return, endorsing my palsy attempts at humour for his inner circle peeps to see. Or maybe, just maybe, it reminded me about the discovery of the century which was made just one week prior.
Now, I'm not much for keeping up with current affairs. That would require vigilant and thorough research on my part, spending a vast majority of time keeping abreast of countless daily news topics and current events, propping my eyelids open with mint toothpicks to absorb it all. Oh, and an attention span; can't do research without one of those. So, yeah, I tend to stay in the comfy darkness afforded to me by living under a big, flat rock.
However, I am a bit of a geek. Like many kids, my childhood dream was to become an astronaut. But, like most of those same kids, I was distraught to learn that astronauts needed to have exceptionally high academic scores to even have a chance at glimpsing low orbit. My marks were good, I guess, could have even raised them to "great" with a little effort, but as a continuous day-dreaming nine year old muddle student, my ambition was a little on the lazy side. Truth be told, I was hoping I could gain astronaut status by taking part in an experimental-monkey-shot-out-into-space kind of mission, where my presence and level of involvement would be comparable to the petri dish bacteria colonies stored on board for observation, along with a paper bag full of dirty mushrooms which would be studied to determine if fungi seemed to enjoy barreling through the blackness of space in a giant tin can.
My dream of exploring the cosmos in a spacecraft has not yet come to fruition (keep those fingers crossed), though I'm still keenly interested in space stuff, dorking it up whenever I hear news of a newly discovered planet or galactic event never before seen. And boy, did we hear some stellar (see what I did there?) news last week!
WE DISCOVERED AND DETECTED GRAVITATIONAL WAVES!
...really? You don't care? Dang.
I'm going to assume your lack of enthusiasm is simply due to a lack of information. Trust me, once you understand the significance of this discovery you'll shit yourself.
Basically, the brainiest nerds on the planet detected a distortion in spacetime, a ripple in the universe itself which, apparently, was caused by the collision of two giant black holes some 1.3 billion years ago. The merger sent off massive shockwaves throughout space which, when carefully measured and analyzed, show that time and space can be manipulated, stretched, contracted and bent! Einstein theorized this a long friggin' time ago, and now it's been proven! Do you need to change your knickers yet?
For the sci-fi crowd, this discovery brings some new muscle to the time-travel party, reinforcing many theories supporting travel through time and space since, as we now have evidence validating this, time and space can ultimately be manipulated. Yeah, okay, we just need to wrangle up a couple nasty massive black holes to harness enough energy to do it as far as we know at this point, but it can be done!
And, as much as time travel sounds super cool (and who wouldn't want to travel back to the late Cretaceous and ride a Triceratops?), the discovery of gravitational waves means something far more practical and valuable.
Until now, we've basically been studying the universe by sight, measuring and analyzing data which returns to us by light emitted from deep in the cosmos. But now, we can listen as well! The waves are translated into sonic wavelengths so we mere mortals can interpret the information. Now we can spy on all the dark, secret stuff out there in the vastness of space, stuff that doesn't let us in visually into their realms. Think about it. Until now, black holes (super-dense collapsed, dead stars) have been vastly theorized about with the only visual evidence of their existence being the demise of other stars that get too close. Black holes are so ridiculously dense and have such strong gravity that even light cannot escape their grasp, so we can't see them. But now we can listen and hear what they have to say, thanks to gravitational waves in the fabric of spacetime.
How else can I say this... Okay, here. I'll paint you a bit of a scene.
Imagine you are standing in your home, observing your loving spouse and child interacting together. They run off together, away and down the hallway, adult chasing the kid in what looks like a playful manner, disappearing around a corner. Dinner is left cooking on the stovetop, delicate wisps of steam emanating from the pan.
That's a nice scenario, isn't it? Warms my heart just thinking about it. Now, close your eyes, and we'll go through the scene again, only this time we'll just listen for information...
Your spouse is yelling at your kid "get back here!", stomping away like a club-footed rhinoceros. Your spawn, giggling like a deranged little idiot, is chasing after the cat, which is meowling hideously. They round a corner, bumping off walls and knocking down picture frames which crash onto the ground into piles of broken glass and splintered wood. The cat hisses and growls, then the kid cries, probably from getting scratched. The entire time, the smoke alarm is wailing away, signalling that dinner was ready 10 minutes ago.
See how much more information we can get from listening? (Huh. Weird. Think I Just got a déjà-vu about something my wife has said to me before.) Up to this point, the universe has mostly been a big, dark, quiet emptiness. But now it's a big, dark, noisy emptiness, which, here's the idea, might turn out to not be so empty after all. This is the beginning of a new era in universal discoveries. Now that we can hear things which we couldn't see before, it's positively mind-numbing to think of the wondrous things we might learn about in our lifetimes. But, who knows? Maybe we won't like what we hear and we'd rather roll around through space in blissful, silent ignorance, oblivious to the dark interstellar monsters that lurk just outside our solar system.
Nah. Sign me up for the next space monkey launch, I'm good to go.
Want to learn actual science and not some blogger's summarized ramblings? Check out The Guardian