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Ripples in the fabric of the universe may reveal the start of time

Jan. 24, 2023.
2 min. read Interactions

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Amara Angelica

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Senior Editor Amara Angelica, an electrical engineer and inventor, was previously Editor of Kurzweil AI, working with Ray Kurzweil on The Singularity Is Near and other works.



Possible light generated by gravitational waves (credit: L. Rezolla (AEI) & M. Koppitz (AEI & Zuse-Institut Berlin)

Gravitational waves can peer back to the beginning of everything we know, say researchers.

“We can’t see the early universe directly,” but maybe we can see it indirectly if we look at how gravitational waves from that time have affected matter and radiation that we can observe today,” said Deepen Garg, lead author of a paper reporting the results in the Journal of Cosmology and Astroparticle Physics.

Garg and his advisor Ilya Dodin, who is affiliated with both Princeton University and PPPL, adapted this technique from their research into fusion energy, the process powering the sun and stars that scientists are developing to create electricity on Earth without emitting greenhouse gases or producing long-lived radioactive waste. Fusion scientists calculate how electromagnetic waves move through plasma, the soup of electrons and atomic nuclei that fuels fusion facilities known as tokamaks and stellarators

It turns out that this process resembles the movement of gravitational waves through matter. “We basically put plasma wave machinery to work on a gravitational wave problem,” Garg said.

Garg and Dodin created formulas that could theoretically lead gravitational waves to reveal hidden properties about celestial bodies, like stars that are many light years away. As the waves flow through matter, they create light whose characteristics depend on the matter’s density.

A physicist could analyze that light and discover properties about a star millions of light years away. This technique could also lead to discoveries about the smashing together of neutron stars and black holes, ultra-dense remnants of star deaths. They could even potentially reveal information about what was happening during the Big Bang and the early moments of our universe.

This research was supported by the U.S. National Science Foundation through Princeton University.

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