• Thu. Nov 26th, 2020

The Warped Side of Our Universe

Edited by Dava Sobel

A billion years ago
   —while here on Earth
   multicelled life was arising and spreading—
in a galaxy far far away
   two spinning black holes danced ’round one another,
   rippling the fabric of space and time.

The ripples, called gravity waves
   sucked energy from the holes’ orbit, so
The holes spiraled inward,
   eclipsing each other,
   toward a climactic collision:

The holes,
   at half of light speed,
   collided catastrophically
     and merged
        in a brief, cataclysmic storm
        of writhing and twisting spacetime
   that brought the waves to crescendo.

The climaxing gravity waves
   surged into interstellar space.
Spreading across our universe,
     they stretched and they squeezed
        all that they met
        (stars and planets and nebulae…)
     in patterns that encoded
        a portrait of their birth:
colliding holes and spacetime storm.

The gravity waves were hugely strong,
   with fifty times more total power
   —more luminosity—
   than all of the light from all of the stars in all of our universe, combined.

Fifty universe luminosities
   from two black holes colliding.
But not any light. Not any x-rays. Not any gamma rays or radio.
   No electromagnetic waves at all,
      None of any type.

Fifty universe luminosities
   carried wholly and solely by gravity waves,
   by tendices and vortices, entwined,
   by structures made from warped spacetime.

Fifty thousand years ago,
   when humans shared Earth with Neandertals,
the waves plunged into our galaxy:
   The Milky Way. Our home.

On September fourteen of twenty fifteen
   they dove into Earth in Antarctica.
Whispering up through Earth’s bowels unscathed,
   and emerging near New Orleans,
     the waves encountered LIGO
        —a complex and huge, L-shaped device
          designed and built to perceive them.

In LIGO the gravity waves stretched and squeezed
   two long beams of light,
which extracted the portraits the waves encoded:
   colliding holes and spacetime storm.

A momentous Eureka Event, it was
humans’ first moment of contact
   with the Warped Side of Our Universe.