Aaron Bunch
(Australian Associated Press)


Australian scientists testing Einstein’s theory of general relativity have discovered a flood of gravitational waves crashing across the universe.

It is the largest number of gravitational waves ever detected, the Australian National University says.

The waves are caused by massive cosmic events, billions of light years away, which hurl the huge ripples through space and time.

They include pairs of black holes and neutron stars smashing against each other and black holes fusing together.

“These discoveries represent a tenfold increase in the number of gravitational waves detected,” physicist Susan Scott said on Monday.

The ANU astrophysicists are part of an international team developing sophisticated new technology to hunt down elusive gravitational waves.

Their work will help humanity take a major leap forward in its quest to solve some of the most complex mysteries of the vast expanse of the universe, including the workings of space-time.

The team detected 35 events between November 2019 and March 2020.

“That’s massive,” Professor Scott said.

“In contrast, we made three detections in our first observing run, which lasted four months in 2015-16”.

It brings the total number of detections to 90 after three observing runs between 2015 and 2020.

“This really is a new era for gravitational wave detections,” Prof Scott said.

“The growing population of discoveries is revealing so much information about the life and death of stars throughout the universe.”

Improvements in how gravitational waves are detected at observatories in the US and Europe have made it possible for the team to make the discoveries.

“This new technology is allowing us to observe more gravitational waves than ever before,” Prof Scott said.

“We are also probing the two black hole mass gap regions and providing more tests of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.”

General relativity is Albert Einstein’s understanding of how gravity affects the fabric of space-time.

The famous physicist published his findings in 1915, expanding the theory of special relativity that he had produced 10 years earlier.

Special relativity argued that space and time are inextricably connected, but that theory did not acknowledge the existence of gravity.

Einstein spent the decade between the two publications determining that particularly massive objects warp the fabric of space-time, a distortion that manifests as gravity, according to NASA.

The international team’s study was published on Monday in arXiv.