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Einstein’s Gravitational Theory Leads to Nobel Prize Win for Scientists Who Proved It
These scientists scooped up the Nobel by detecting a ripple in space-time.
Officials in Sweden have just announced the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics. Three American scientists won for detecting, for the very first time, gravitational waves or ripples in space-time, which were first predicted by Einstein back in 1916. Rainer Weiss of MIT, and Barry Barish and Kip Thorne of Caltech were this year’s recipients.
Weiss will receive half of the 9 million Swedish kronor ($1.1 million), and Barish and Thorne will split the rest. Their employment of advanced theory and the fabrication of the unique LIGO instrument won them the prestigious award, according to officials at The Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences.
LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravity-Wave Observatory. There are two such sites in the US currently, one in Louisiana and the other in Washington State. The reason they’re 1,000 miles (1,609 km) apart is to better detect gravitational waves emanating from space. A third observatory called Virgo just came online in Italy, to join the collaborative project. LIGO alone has thousands of researchers from 20 different countries. Weiss said to reporters at the event, "I view this more as a thing that recognizes the work of a thousand people, a really dedicated effort that’s been going on for — I hate to tell you — as long as 40 years.”
A LIGO observatory is comprised of two, 2.5 mile (4 km) long tunnels set perpendicularly, like a big L. When a gravitational wave passes over Earth, the space in the tunnel gets compacted in one direction and stretched in another. This tiny fluctuation can be detected by laser. The instrument is so sensitive, it picks up fluctuations in space-time thousands of times smaller than the nucleus of an atom.
One of the tunnels at Virgo. Credit: Virgo Collaboration.
Gravitational observatories were first conceived 50 years ago. In the mid-70s, the laureates came together to try to construct what is now LIGO. Weiss had already designed a laser-based interferometer by then. What was particularly advantageous in his model is it filtered out certain unwanted background noise.
Rather than a straight line, Einstein theorized that space is curved and that tension between large bodies, such as Earth and the sun, effectively bend space-time. With extremely massive events, like a supernova or a black hole collision, gravitational waves are sent rippling throughout the universe at the speed of light. Where Einstein went wrong is that he thought since these waves are so minuscule, we’d never be able to detect them.
While we’ve explored the universe through instruments that detect cosmic rays, neutrinos, and electromagnetic radiation, gravitational waves offer an entirely new aperture in which to view the cosmos. According to the announcement’s press release, “This is something completely new and different, opening up unseen worlds. A wealth of discoveries awaits those who succeed in capturing the waves and interpreting their message.”
The LIGO observatory was first set up in 1999. In 2014, it received an upgrade, making it much more powerful. It first captured a ripple in space-time in 2015. This was the aftereffect of two black holes colliding, each 30 times the mass of our sun. The result was an even bigger black hole. The event occurred 1.3 billion light-years away. One light-year is about 5.9 trillion miles (9.5 trillion km). Ariel Goobar of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences compared LIGO to “when Galileo discovered the telescope.”
Thorne, speaking to the Associated Press by phone, called the wave detection "a win for the human race as a whole.” He added, “These gravitational waves will be powerful ways for the human race to explore the universe." Meanwhile, Barish called it "a win for Einstein, and a very big one."
Virgo is an important piece, since it allows researchers to better determine the location of the origin of ripples in space-time. More gravitational observatories are now being built. Scientists believe such facilities may allow us to find crucial particles never before discovered, such as those which may only exist in the vicinity of black holes.
To learn more details about how a laser-based interferometer works, click here:
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The team caught a glimpse of a process that takes 18,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 years.
- In Italy, a team of scientists is using a highly sophisticated detector to hunt for dark matter.
- The team observed an ultra-rare particle interaction that reveals the half-life of a xenon-124 atom to be 18 sextillion years.
- The half-life of a process is how long it takes for half of the radioactive nuclei present in a sample to decay.
Gender and sexual minority populations are experiencing rising anxiety and depression rates during the pandemic.
- Anxiety and depression rates are spiking in the LGBTQ+ community, and especially in individuals who hadn't struggled with those issues in the past.
- Overall, depression increased by an average PHQ-9 score of 1.21 and anxiety increased by an average GAD-7 score of 3.11.
- The researchers recommended that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.
Study findings<p>For the study, <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05970-4" target="_blank">published in the Journal of General Internal Medicine</a><em>, </em>Flentje and her team evaluated survey responses from nearly 2,300 individuals who identified as being in the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) community. Most of the participants were white, while nearly 19 percent identified as a racial or ethnic minority. Multiple genders were represented with cisgender women (27.2 percent) and men (24.6 percent) making up a majority of the participants. Sixty-three percent had been assigned female at birth. For the most part, participants identified their sexual orientations as queer (40.3 percent), gay (36.5 percent), and bisexual (30.3 percent).</p><p>The JGIM study participants were recruited from the 18,000-participant <a href="https://pridestudy.org/" target="_blank">PRIDE Study</a> (Population Research in Identity and Disparities for Equality), which is the first large-scale, long-term national study focusing on American adults who identify as LGBTQ+. It conducts annual questionnaires to understand factors related to health and disease in this population. </p><p>Participants filled out an annual questionnaire (starting in June 2019) and a COVID-19 impact survey this past spring. Flentje noted that on an individual level, some people may not have experienced a big change in anxiety or depression levels, but for others there was. Overall, depression increased by a <a href="https://patient.info/doctor/patient-health-questionnaire-phq-9" target="_blank">PHQ-9 score</a> of 1.21, putting it at 8.31 on average. Anxiety went up by a <a href="https://www.mdcalc.com/gad-7-general-anxiety-disorder-7" target="_blank">GAD-7</a> score of 3.11 to an average of 8.89. Interestingly, the average PHQ-9 scores for those who screened positive for depression at the first 2019 survey decreased by 1.08. Those who screened negative for depression saw their PHQ-9 scores increase by 2.17 on average. As for anxiety, researchers detected no GAD-7 change among the study participants who screened positive for anxiety in the first survey, but did see an overall increase of 3.93 among those who had initially been evaluated as negative for the disorder. </p>
Risks among gender and sexual minorities<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="fc3fd1ae68b77bbbf58a6995638d6d65"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/EnUqDjCqg0A?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>The LGBTQ+ community is a vulnerable population to mental health concerns because of their fear of stigmatization and previous discriminatory experiences.</p> <p>Previous research by the Human Rights Campaign has found "that LGBTQ Americans are more likely than the <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/general+population/" target="_blank">general population</a> to live in poverty and lack access to adequate medical care, paid <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/medical+leave/" target="_blank">medical leave</a>, and basic necessities during the pandemic," said researcher Tari Hanneman, director of the health and aging program at the campaign.</p> <p>"Therefore, it is not surprising to see this increase in anxiety and depression among this population," Hanneman said in the release. "This study highlights the need for <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/health+care+professionals/" target="_blank">health care professionals</a> to support, affirm and provide <a href="https://medicalxpress.com/tags/critical+care/" target="_blank">critical care</a> for the LGBTQ community to manage and maintain their mental health, as well as their physical health, during this pandemic."</p>
What should health care providers do?<p>The authors of the study recommend that health care providers check in with LGBTQ+ patients about stress and screen for mood and anxiety disorders in members of that community—even among those with no prior history of anxiety or depression.</p><p>As cases of COVID-19 continue to mount, the sustained social distancing, potential isolation, economic precariousness, and personal illness, grief, and loss are bound to have increased and varied impacts on mental health. Effective treatments may include individual therapy and medications as well as more large-scale coronavirus support programs like peer-led groups and mindfulness practices. </p><p>"It will be important to find out what happens over time and to identify who is most at risk, so we can be sure to roll out public health interventions to support the mental health of our communities in the best and most effective ways," said Flentje.</p>
What we know about black holes is both fascinating and scary.
- When it comes to black holes, science simultaneously knows so much and so little, which is why they are so fascinating. Focusing on what we do know, this group of astronomers, educators, and physicists share some of the most incredible facts about the powerful and mysterious objects.
- A black hole is so massive that light (and anything else it swallows) can't escape, says Bill Nye. You can't see a black hole, theoretical physicists Michio Kaku and Christophe Galfard explain, because it is too dark. What you can see, however, is the distortion of light around it caused by its extreme gravity.
- Explaining one unsettling concept from astrophysics called spaghettification, astronomer Michelle Thaller says that "If you got close to a black hole there would be tides over your body that small that would rip you apart into basically a strand of spaghetti that would fall down the black hole."