THAT’S HEAVY MAN: Totally floored by gravity wave discovery

Illustration showing white dwarf stars creating gravity waves as they spiral inward. PHOTO CREDIT: NASA  

Illustration showing white dwarf stars creating gravity waves as they spiral inward. PHOTO CREDIT: NASA

 

WHILE THIS BLOG is mostly about things related to my new company, one thing you should know about me is that I’m a bit of science geek.  Once upon a time, I actually thought I was going to be a scientist (I studied earth science in college) before getting a crazy idea to be a journalist. The curiosity is still there - I just use it differently.

So, while I work with images and words today, news of amazing scientific discoveries often thrills me or humbles me. Sometimes, that news does both. And the gravity wave news last week was, in a word, awesome.

I won’t get into the science component of this, which others can do far better than I. But I understand enough to perhaps describe why we should care, and why it should be big news to everyone.

I mean, gravity is one of those things that humanity has been struggling with since Adam and Eve. Like death and taxes, it’s one of those inevitable, irresistible, and unfathomable powerful forces that seem uncontrollable.

Yeah, sure, we have learned to mimic birds by flying, but our solutions to gravity (costly, fuel-guzzling vehicles) only get us in the air briefly and even then, a slight malfunction can be repaid with disaster. (My wife and I often disagree on how long a flight is. I measure flying time, she measures door to door. Why? Because we’re only defying gravity while we’re airborne).

And there you have it — the phrase “defying gravity.” Defying whom, exactly? If gravity is a law, who passed it?

So, the confirmation that gravity waves exist is huge. It's amazing we (sort of) have a chance at understanding how this invisible, silent force pulls us to the planet and the planets to each other. Like a thread that if pulled on unravels a garment, so too is the detection of a gravity wave.

Gravity, Einstein said, is tied up with our conceptions of what time and space truly are (it’s now sometimes called the same thing, i.e. “spacetime”). Evidence now in hand, perhaps this mysterious force can somehow, just maybe, be tamed — as we have learned to do with electromagnetism, one of the the other fundamental forces (the one behind everything from lasers to smartphones).

More importantly, and forgive me for getting a bit metaphysical, the notion we might be capable of understanding space, time, and gravity is so fundamental to questions of existence and our relationship to creation that it’s hard not to be excited. And, it gives this writer hope — hope that if we really understand how intricate, beautiful, and special creation is, we can use it as the basis to see and value each other the same way.

Sentimental and silly to some, I suppose. But it's thoughts like that one that lift my spirits and thereby defy gravity every day for me.