On Feb. 11, a team of scientists heard and recorded the sound of two black holes colliding a billion light years away, which proves Einstein’s gravitational wave theory and the general theory of relativity.
Neil Comins, professor of physics and astronomy at the University of Maine, is a wave expert as well as an author of many books.
Comins received his bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from Cornell University and later received his master’s in astrophysics at UMaine. Comins also received his Ph.D. in general relativity from University College in Cardiff, Wales. In the 1970s, Commins studied and researched gravitational waves.
A major breakthrough in science, this discovery is the first evidence that directly proves that there are gravitational waves and that Einstein’s century old prediction is true. The research of gravitational waves began in the 1960s, but the technology was too weak.
“I actually worked for the first generation of those experiments,” Comins said. “I convinced myself that although it was great engineering, it was not going to work because they were not sensitive enough to detect the waves.
A gravitational wave is essentially a ripple in the space-time fabric. This discovery is important to scientists because it proves Einstein’s general theory of relativity and can help explain the big bang theory
“The fact that the predictions that general relativity make are being confirmed, gives us more confidence that these equations are telling us real science,” Comins said.
The experiment that proved Einstein’s theory occurred in Louisiana and Washington, where scientists used wave detectors to see if the space changed. The shape of the change proved that the calculations for gravitational waves was true.
“[The waves] were not seen at the same time but slightly different because if an event occurs Louisiana would see it first and then Washington,” Comins said. “Scientists were able to discover which came first, and there was an event that happened where two black holes collided and created these ripples.”
The research that has occurred since the 1960s has greatly improved engineering and technology for the future. This discovery can help scientists learn more about the cosmos and more about how the universe began which remains an unanswered question for scientists.
“With good engineering, we can use the gravitational waves literally as telescopes,” Comins said. “We now can detect gravity waves and use that information to learn how things in space work.
Comins has worked at UMaine for 38 years, teaching classes in physics and all levels of astronomy. His early research included both the experimental and theoretical study of gravitational waves.
“When I worked on waves in the 1980s, I produced work that helped scientists for a very long time,” Comins said. “It is possible that my colleague and I could present more about general relativity to students because there is more to talk about.”