The Revealing Sounds of the Cosmos

Photo of Marc Favata.

Scientists, including Montclair State Physics Professor Marc Favata, made history this past February when they recorded, for the first time, gravitational waves from two black holes colliding to form one in a distant universe — confirming Albert Einstein’s 1915 theory of relativity.‌

The recording was made by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Scientific Collaboration and is one of the most important physics discoveries of the past half-century, says Favata.

“The main significance is that we now have a new tool — gravitational waves — that will let us observe the universe in a completely different way,” he explains. “It’s analogous to observing the world with only sight, and only later being able to hear. Gravitational-wave astronomy will provide us with the ‘missing soundtrack’ to the universe.”

The measurement is astonishingly precise: It’s equivalent to measuring the distance to the nearest star to within the thickness of a human hair, according to Favata.

A member of the LIGO project team of more than 1,000 scientists from over 70 institutions in 15 countries, Favata recently received an extension of an earlier National Science Foundation (NSF) award to continue to explore issues in modeling gravitational-wave sources.

Favata’s award has supported both technical and educational outreach work on the LIGO project. Favata is also studying a strange phenomena in Einstein’s theory called the “memory effect” that predicts that gravitational waves themselves produce more gravitational waves. He has worked with various students and recent graduates on these projects.

“We were lucky in that the first detection was a very loud and unambiguous signal,” he says. “We expect to detect many more in the coming months and years.”