Sunday, February 14, 2016

Grip of Gravity

The world has been in the grip of gravity in recent days. Of course, each moment of our lives we experience the physical grip of gravity. But lately the news from scientists has been more gripping than usual. Gravity waves were directly detected for the first time in history and reported to the public on February 11, 2016. They were proposed by Einstein in 1916 when he proposed his theory of general relativity. General relativity is a mystery to most people, but laypersons may understand that the mysterious force of gravity is a component of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

In Einstein’s concept, space and time are interwoven in what is known as the “space-time continuum.” Einstein predicted that mass and energy “warp” space and time. The warps are sometimes described as “ripples” in space. But only the most extreme masses are able to warp the fabric of space-time. For the first time, gravity waves (ripples) may now be detected. 

Warping of space-time has recently been plentifully illustrated by YouTube clips. Imagine a trampoline tightly stretched across a frame. A mass placed on the trampoline warps the mat surface; the heavier the mass the more the mat is warped. A marble or steel ball directed onto the mat will circle the mass in various paths, following the warp of the mat. Earth is attracted by the gravity of the sun in a descriptive sense, but more accurately, it is following the warp or curvature of space-time produced by a massive object.

We return to the idea that gravity waves were undetectable until now. No gravity wave was ever strong enough to detect. Only very large masses moving very fast are able to produce a detectable wave. The LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory cost $620 million, including a $200 million update in September 2015. On September 14, 2015 LIGO detected identical gravity waves at facilities in both Louisiana and Washington State at virtually the same time. The recent update apparently enabled quick success in scientists’ initial detection of gravity waves.

The very large masses necessary were two orbiting black holes which merged into a single black hole 1.3 billion light years distant. The event occurred, therefore, 1.3 billion years ago! The objects were moving at almost half the speed of light when they merged, momentarily releasing energy of the most powerful event ever observed. Only an event of this magnitude could generate detectable ripples in our space-time fabric.

The minuscule strength of the detected LIGO gravitational waves is only powerful enough to warp space a tiny amount—one ten-thousandth the diameter of a proton in experiments such as LIGO. Scientists predict man may explore the universe in a completely new way in the future.

Colossians 1:16-17 is offered as a devotional passage rather than a scientific proof-text: “For by him (Christ) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (ESV). Creationists recall similar passages that were authored primarily as spiritual commentary. Our worship is enabled by spiritual blessings as well as our knowledge of the magnificent physical creation.