Einstein’s theory of General Relativity offers a model of space that envisions gravitational forces as curvatures in space caused by the presence of masses – rather than as forces acting across a distance. The more massive an object is, the more it distorts and warps the surrounding space-time fabric, the same way a bowling ball, a baseball and a marble resting on a trampoline will each distort it a different amount. A ping-pong ball on the trampoline that rolls towards a bowling ball isn’t attracted to it, it’s just following the curves of the trampoline.
Now, many decades after Einstein’s ideas first altered the way people understood and described the universe, scientists can collect actual data and compare observations to the predictions posed by Einstein’s theories. Already, several predictions that were radical when Einstein made them have turned out to be true: the expansion of space, the existence of black holes, and the presence of some kind of universal energy pulling matter apart.
This video describes a new NASA mission that will observe the energy being released from matter falling into a black hole. A black hole is an object so incredibly dense that nothing can escape, not even light. Its gravitational forces create an “event horizon” inside of which – to an outside observer – time seems to stop. Any matter near a black hole will be subject to its intense gravity. As the matter is pulled to the center of the black hole, it releases high energy radiation that can be detected and mapped.
Near a black hole, gravitational forces are so intense that space-time gets highly warped. Based on the radiation signatures of matter moving through these areas, we can observe the warping – and can track what scientists refer to as “gravity waves.” Gravity waves don’t work the same way as electromagnetic (EM) waves; they represent a completely different idea. Gravity waves arise when matter changes or is accelerated. They are “ripples” in space-time. Only now - as our technology, design and engineering have sufficiently advanced – can we probe for actual data about gravity waves and see if, once again, Einstein’s predictions were correct.