A lot of cool science happened in 2016, but the obvious “holy shit!” moment came when physicists announced they’d confirmed the existence of gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of spacetime first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916.
Of course, some folks had other things to do last year besides geeking out about science all over the internet every day (I don’t know these people, but I assume they exist). If you missed one of the most exciting physics developments of the century, or need a refresher on what gravitational waves are, why we care and how we detect them, this nine minute animation by YouTube’s Dominic Walliman does not disappoint.
Even as someone who followed the first detection of gravitational waves obsessively (I attended a press conference on the announcement in Washington DC, where I had the delight of hearing Kip Thorne use the phrase “storm on the cosmic ocean”) I found Walliman’s take to be chock full of interesting facts, figures, and comparisons, including:
1. In the span of 0.2 seconds, the black hole collision that produced humanity’s first bonafide gravitational wave signal released more energy than all of the stars in the known universe.
2. In the time it took said gravitational waves to reach our planet, life crawled out of the oceans and onto the land, dinosaurs evolved and died, and humanity because a dominant driving force on Earth.
3. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) is far more than a black hole detector. Studying gravitational waves could help scientists hone measurements of how quickly the universe is expanding, how much dark energy is really out there, and why stars go supernovae.
But don’t let me give it all away. Check out the video for yourself, and spend 2017 impressing everybody with your knowledge about the hottest new branch of astrophysics.