Everyone has heard of black holes before. For many years, most scientists have inferred the existence of super-massive black holes because of the effects they have on the matter around them. However, there exists no visual proof of their presence. Black holes soak up all light before it has any chance to reflect to Earth. Science was going to have to get creative. At long last, in 2016, another method of detecting black holes and the ‘gravitational waves’ they produce finally came to fruition.
In “Black Hole Blues and Other Songs From Outer Space,” Janna Levin delves into how a team of researchers ‘heard’ gravitational waves in 2016 from millions of light years away, effectively completing Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity from 1916. This discovery is generally considered to be one of the most important scientific discoveries of the past century, and outlining the steps to its occurrence was quite a task. Dr. Levin was the right woman for the job.
Armed with a doctorate in physics from MIT, and with two popular books already under her belt, the current Columbia University professor is able to handle the shrewd, sharp scientists who were crucial to this detection. For the reader, Dr. Levin understands how to take difficult scientific concepts and explain them in ways that everyone can understand, without overstepping the fine line of dumbing them down.
With the discoveries detailed in the book come massive consequences for the world of science, and astronomy in particular. Big plans are underway to improve the “LIGO” systems responsible for the first detection and replicate the results on a more wide-reaching scale.
With only two detectors active during the 2015 finding, scientists were unable to accurately triangulate the original position of the occurrence, . Another detector in Italy, called VIRGO, will be up and running imminently, which will allow scientists to precisely triangulate origins of gravitational waves.
While many similar projects are underway to improve LIGO’s capabilities here on Earth, NASA has its sights set on space. By the mid-2030’s they hope to enact the project they refer to as “eLISA.” eLISA consists of three separate satellites being launched into space, each acting as an observatory arm, and each spanning millions of kilometers. In time, researchers believe it will be possible to detect leftover waves from the big bang 4.5 billion years ago. This would provide humanity with a complete sonic history of the entire universe.
Clearly, the future for the field of astronomy is bright. Any curious reader out there will not be stepping wrong when picking up a copy of Levin’s well-crafted novel about a booming field of science with endless future possibilities.