NEW YORK (CNS) — Through long years of research by scientists, including a physics teacher at Regis High School in Manhattan, gravitational waves have been directly measured, confirming the last prediction of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
On Sept. 14, the faint “chirp” of two black holes colliding 1.3 billion light-years away was heard and recorded by scientists in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory Scientific Collaboration, or LIGO collaboration for short.
Luca Matone, a physics teacher at Regis High School, was one of the 1,000 scientists involved in the effort.
The collision of the black holes generated a gravitational wave, a ripple in space and time propagated throughout the universe. It is very much like the ripple that results when a pebble is thrown into a pond that gradually becomes less pronounced over distance and time.
“Instead of seeing, you can listen to events in the night sky,” Matone told Catholic New York, newspaper of the New York Archdiocese. “From now on, there will be a way to look at the universe in a different light.”
He called the results “absolutely stunning.”
The LIGO collaboration made the discovery with a pair of L-shaped observatories in Washington state and Louisiana. The two machines allowed scientists to actually “hear” sounds in space and both picked up the chirp of the black holes colliding almost simultaneously.
Matone, who holds a doctorate from the University of Paris, spent much of his career involved in gravitational wave research.
He assisted in the production of the interferometer at the LIGO observatory in Hanford, Washington. He also was among the scientists who wrote the detection paper, “Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger,” published Feb. 12 in “Physical Review Letters.”
The paper assembled the research so other scientists could review it.
“This detection is real,” he said. “It’s an opportunity to see real science. Generally there are answers in the back of the textbook. For this there are no answers in the back now.”
As a teacher at a Catholic high school, Matone discussed the intersection of faith and science. “A lot of my colleagues are atheists,” he said. “I never really found a conflict between the two.”
For example, he recalled one night during his research when he found himself in the desert, preoccupied with his own thoughts and problems. He remembered finally taking a moment to breathe and look up at the sky, marveling at what he saw.
“It makes you wonder,” he said. “There was never a conflict between the supernatural and science for me.”
About 100 juniors and seniors gathered recently at the school to hear Matone discuss his experiences and research. He showed them photos of the LIGO interferometers and played the sound recording of the black holes colliding.
Luke D’Cruz, a junior at Regis, left the presentation impressed.
“This is probably going to be one of the greatest scientific discoveries of the century and Dr. Matone can say he was part of it,” he said.
“He’s a real role model.”
DosSantos is a reporter with Catholic New York, newspaper of the Archdiocese of New York.