From a largely unknown spot in Livingston Parish, scientists have cupped their ears to the heavens and heard an important clue about the workings of the universe. The discovery confirms what Albert Einstein suspected about how the cosmos operates. One doesn’t have to be an Einstein to understand that Louisiana’s role in this breakthrough is a cause for celebration.
The sound the scientists heard is a recording of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away.
It was picked up at a research facility in Livingston, called LIGO, then detected by researchers in Washington state. News of the discovery, which occurred last September but was just announced this week, is making headlines around the world. Shortly after posting its story on the new findings, The New York Times attracted more than 700 online comments.
“If replicated by future experiments, that simple chirp, which rose to the note of middle C before abruptly stopping, seems destined to take its place among the great sound bites of science, ranking with Alexander Graham Bell’s ‘Mr. Watson — come here’ and Sputnik’s first beeps from orbit,” The Times noted of the LIGO research.
LIGO, which stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, began operations in Livingston in 2002. It’s federally supported, with scientists from around the world participating in LIGO’s work.
LSU has an especially prominent role in LIGO.
The LIGO Livingston observatory is located on LSU property, and LSU faculty, students and research staff are major contributors to the 15-nation international LIGO Science Collaboration, or LSC. More than 1,000 scientists from universities around the U.S. and 14 other countries conduct LIGO research as members of the LSC. Gabriela González, LSU professor of physics and astronomy, leads the collaboration.
“This detection is the beginning of a new era. The field of gravitational wave astronomy is now a reality,” González said.
What does this mean for those of us who aren’t scientists? LIGO’s discovery helps us better understand how physics governs matter and energy, key insights that promise to shape both pure and applied science for years to come.
When he served in Congress, former U.S. Rep. Richard Baker, a Baton Rouge Republican, was instrumental in helping to locate LIGO in Louisiana.
When the facility was dedicated, Baker cited a Daniel Webster quote that hangs above the chair for the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives: “Let us develop the resources of our land, build up its institutions, promote all its great interests and see whether we also in our day and generation may not perform something worthy to be remembered.”
LIGO’s new discovery lives up to Webster’s vision. We congratulate LIGO, LSU and all of those involved in making it happen.