Reitze, who visited Madrid to give the closing keynote speech at the BBVA Foundation-sponsored Astrophysics Cycle with a LIGO research update conference, defined the world’s reaction as “overwhelming” after the discovery of these waves whose existence was predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity.
This scientific success, he states “was the result of human curiosity and tenacity” made possible thanks to the “teamwork that has involved over one thousand persons.”
The official statement informing of the detection of these waves that propagate across space-time after being generated in extremely violent cosmic events was published ten months ago, although the first time they were tracked by LIGO was Sept. 2015.
Reitze explained that LIGO‘s second research period started Nov. 30 and will continue for the next six months.
During this time he is certain they will detect “big surprises” helping us understand how the Universe works, although at this moment, it is impossible to be more precise on the details.
This breakthrough will even allow us to develop a new “gravitational wave astronomy” which will allow humanity to see and understand space “in a completely different manner” compared to our current conventional knowledge.
However, Reitze acknowledged that, although he was certain LIGO would see exciting things, they would not have the media impact as the first time we detected the gravitational waves.
The scientist recalls that even Einstein, who had theoretically calculated its effects, was pessimistic about the possibility that some day the waves would ever be confirmed due to the difficulty in observing them and in some moments, he even cast doubts on their existence.
Reitze nonetheless could only see one problem: “My question was when would we detect them, as a matter of fact, I thought we would solve it by 2017 or 2018… but on the other hand you do not devote your scientific career to something like this unless you believe you will find it in the end, regardless of the challenges you may encounter along the way.”
During its development, the LIGO experiments faced diverse challenges “from the technical development of instrumentation as precise as what we are using to securing the required budgets,” although he said the biggest challenges are “always the conflicts in ideas.”
He refered, among other things, to the people that question the utility of assigning human and financial resources to scientific activities yet fail to recognize the numerous benefits that come as a result of this trade-off.
“It is true that we are not going to cure cancer thanks to the gravitational waves, but the investment is really worth it and we will be proven correct with the great surprises the future holds in store,” he underscored.
Reitze said that “when quantum mechanics were formulated at the beginning of the 20th century, no one could have predicted the arrival of the computer” and that “without the General Theory of Relativity, there would be no Global Positioning System (GPS).”
He also pointed out that hundreds of people working in state-of-the-art technological corporations such as Google or SpaceX have trained at LIGO and, therefore, “there is a much larger volume of knowledge being transferred thanks to this project.”