Gravitational Waves - a massive physics breakthrough

Just a short blog post, for two reasons;

a) timing - I urge ALL teachers and educators (even those not normally comfortable with teaching Physics) to discuss this with their pupils tomorrow if possible (before many schools break up for half term)

b) the Science - this is a topic so fascinating, and a discovery so significant, that really there's not much I can add to the many fantastic images, videos etc already provided by various websites/news agencies.

It has officially been confirmed (after a few months of rumours) that gravitational waves have been observed. I am struggling to think of a more significant discovery in Physics in the last 100 years, and the science (and technology involved) is truly cutting edge.

Previously all observations in astronomy have been made using light (visible light, and other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum). Gravitational waves open up a whole new area of astronomy, allowing us to observe previously invisible parts of the universe.

The waves were detected by LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory), two detectors in North America. The detectors measure fluctuations in space-time, picking up changes just a fraction of the size of an atom. The lasers involved can measure distance so accurately that (if scaled up) they could measure the distance between the Earth and the Sun to the nearest atom. 

LIGO has detected what astronomers believe to be two large black holes spiralling together and then colliding, emitting huge amounts of gravitational energy.

There are a plethora of excellent videos/animations/diagrams explaining the discovery online. Here are a selection.

If you'd like to improve your understanding of astronomy and astrophysics, or find useful ways of bringing this exciting topic into the classroom, then why not sign up for a Cutting Edge Science course? The National Science Learning Network, in partnership with Research Councils UK, offer a number of exciting Cutting Edge Science courses designed to help bring Cutting Edge Science into your day to day classroom practice, including courses on Astrophysics.

All CPD which is part of the Bringing Cutting Edge Science into the Classroom programme qualifies for a bursary of up to £180 per day. Click here for further details:




Subject(s)Physics, Science
Age11-14, 14-16, 16-19, FE/HE
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Bob Pritchard

BBC Newsround has a more KS3 friendly video...