On Monday, October 16, the National Science Foundation (NSF) will host an event at the National Press Club in Washington, DC featuring researchers from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo collaborations, along with scientists from approximately 70
observatories from around the world. Journalists are also invited to attend the event, which is intended to be the global reveal for new findings on gravitational waves.
First the scientists will discuss the new findings, which are from LIGO, Virgo, and various other observatories from all over the world. Next, telescope teams studying extreme cosmic events in partnership with the LIGO and Virgo collaborations will discuss their recent findings. The event will begin for the press and public at 10:00 a.m., EDT.
On September 14, 2015 the LIGO team first detected gravitational waves, a discovery that they announced in February of 2016. Gravitational waves are created (among other things) by the compacting and releasing of the fabric of spacetime as two black holes orbit each other in a dance of death. The first observed event confirmed Einstein’s general theory of relativity, via which he posited spacetime as a singular and unitary phenomenon, and was a milestone in astronomy and physics that would usher in a new field of gravitational-wave astronomy. Three more detections were confirmed since then, the most recent of which was the first joint LIGO and Virgo detection.
Solving Time-Old Mysteries
Physicists from the LIGO project were recently awarded the Nobel for their work with gravitational waves. Their work detecting gravitational waves has permanently changed astronomy and physics, and not simply because it confirms Einstein’s theory of relativity. The detection of the waves will also offer insight into how the universe is expanding — insight that could never have been accessed without otherwise appealing to dark matter, a term that is ultimately a placeholder for a massive force of we-know-not-what that has long eluded the scientific community. Gravitational wave research is also likely to reveal the nature of dark matter.
Event organizers are asking journalists who wish to attend the event to RSVP as soon as possible to firstname.lastname@example.org, and no later than noon EDT Friday, October 13. The National Press Club is located in Holeman Lounge at 529 14th St. NW, 13th Floor, in Washington, DC.
Scientists announced this week that they have once again recorded gravitational waves, ripples in space-time, from a pair of black holes colliding 1.8 billion light years away. They recorded the event on August 14, the fourth time in the past two years that astronomers have detected and recorded such ripples from collisions of black holes. The scientists made the announcement in a Physical Review Letters paper, as well as at a G7 meeting of science ministers in Turin, Italy.
The August collision involved a black hole with a mass of about 31 times that of the Sun, and another with 25 solar masses. Once the two crashed, they created a black hole with a mass of 53 solar masses. In line with earlier gravitational wave detections, the remaining three solar masses transformed into the gravitational waves the scientists detected. The August observations were the result of Virgo’s August 1 debut, a new gravitational wave detector in Italy built by the European Gravitational Observatory.
Earlier detections of gravitational waves were made by LIGO, a pair of L-shaped antennas in Louisiana and Washington. Since LIGO first detected the waves in February 2016 — confirming Albert Einstein’s prediction and verifying the nature of black holes — the scientists working with LIGO have been searching for more insights into the universe. Although the newer Virgo antenna is only one-fourth as sensitive as the LIGO antennas, the network can now triangulate the sources of gravitational waves, allowing optical telescopes to search for any accompanying visible effects sparking in the night sky.
The astronomers will continue working to improve their instruments until fall of 2018 when their next observation run will begin. LIGO Scientific Collaboration spokesman David Shoemaker told the New York Times: “This is just the beginning of observations with the network enabled by Virgo and LIGO working together. With the next observing run planned for Fall 2018, we can expect such detections weekly or even more often.”
The transition from one year to the next is always a little uncertain – an uneasy blend of anxiety and optimism, it’s also a time of retrospection, introspection, and even a little tentative prognostication. And since the latter is our stock-in-trade at Futurism, we believe now is the perfect time to look ahead at what 2017 has in store for us.
And 2017, we feel pretty confident in predicting, will be even better. So, in that spirit, here’s a sample of what we think will be some of the most exciting headlines in space for the coming year.
LIGO and Virgo Join Forces
Gravitational wave astronomy had a pretty good year in 2016, no doubt about it. In fact, it was Year One for that fledgling science, but now it’s time to begin the systematization of the field and look to refine the instruments and hone their precision. 2017 will be the year that the LIGO telescopes in Washington and Louisiana are joined by the European Virgo interferometer in Italy, which will finally allow astronomers to triangulate the gravitational wave signals they’re detecting.
With luck, sometime in the coming year, we’ll finally pinpoint the location of the colliding black holes whose swan song we’ve been hearing in the ripples of spacetime; and by coordinating with space telescopes, we might even succeed in glimpsing a visual counterpart to the phenomenon.
Private Spaceflight Takes Off
Okay, maybe this one’s a little obvious — especially considering the enormous strides that the billionaire rocket-boys are yearly making. Still, it bears repeating…no, it bears shouting from the rooftops: every new advance in private spaceflight brings us closer to one of those great societal “phase transitions” — a new economy, a new paradigm, a whole new history.
Virgin Galactic is still looking to get back in the game after its SpaceShipTwo fatally broke apart over the Mojave Desert in 2014; and one of its other ventures, a commercial supersonic transporter, is slated to begin prototype testing in late 2017. Meanwhile, Bezos’ Blue Origin is still on track to begin launching test astronauts before the year’s end. And that’s a big deal, folks, because it would mean the private space companies have graduated from launching inert payloads of expensive electronics to finally lofting delicate packages of fragile human flesh — perhaps the most expensive resource we have.
So let’s hope 2017 isn’t just another year of remarkable firsts in private spaceflight. Let’s hope it marks a turning point in human history.
But SpaceX is set to blast into 2017 on Sunday with its first launch since the September disaster. Look for more milestones in the year ahead—from the long-awaited maiden flight of the Falcon Heavy, to test flights of its crew capsule (including a manned mission?—hey, we can dream), to further updates on Musk’s marvelous Martian stratagem.
The Red Planet has never felt closer than it does today; and nowadays it seems the world turns on Elon Musk’s dreams. So a healthy, pioneering SpaceX is something we can all root for.
The End of an Era
It seems that 2017 will also be the year we bid goodbye to the steadfast Cassini, whose Saturnian sojourn will finally come to an end when the probe plummets into the Ringed Planet’s atmosphere — a spectacular farewell salute to its longtime host. That day in the middle of September will be bittersweet — a sad but necessary conclusion to a two-decade mission that provided us with a wealth of discoveries, magnificent images, and forever changed our understanding of the Solar System.
The splendid little spacecraft will continue doing science up to the very end — spending some months swinging between Saturn and its mighty rings, and snapping pictures throughout its suicidal plunge into the great planet’s atmosphere.
Meanwhile, the launch of NASA’s TESS (Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite) by year’s end will further expand our understanding of the universe. Like its predecessor, the fruitful Kepler Telescope, TESS will use the transiting method to seek out new worlds, and…well, if we’re lucky, maybe new civilizations too. And don’t forget Juno, whose science mission at mighty Jupiter will really begin in 2017.
We’ve only picked out some of the most exciting potential trends and developments in space in 2017, extrapolating from last year and relying (perhaps overmuch) on the forecasts of private space companies and national space agencies.
But our greatest hopes for the new year lie in the unexpected—those new discoveries we just can’t predict, like the detection of GW150914, or the discovery of Proxima Centauri b, or finding the potentially habitable worlds of TRAPPIST-1.
So stay tuned to Futurism—it’s going to be an exciting year!
Read the rest of our series on the science and tech of 2017: