Gravitational waves may seem distant and incomprehensible; why should we care about them? Let’s try to understand their importance to us in a more familiar way.
We are inside the universe’s body. If star clusters are like the organs of the universe’s body, and stars and planets are like the cells, then maybe we are the ribosomes within each cell. We are important to the vital function of the body – where would our own body be without ribosomes’ protein production? But, as wee ribosomes, we are only focused on our own task and pretty oblivious to everything that is happening in the other parts of the body.
Then, two black holes in the body of the universe smack into each other and merge, rippling out an enormous bang of energy. Like a heart attack in our body. BANG! By the time the ripples from that bang reach our cell (Earth) and us teeny-weeny ribosomes, the bang of energy has degraded into a whisper.
Does that mean that the energy of the merging of the two black holes is not important to us and has absolutely no effect on us? The energy reaching us from the merging of the two black holes a billion light-years away is very, very minuscule so our first response would be no, there is no effect on us. So why is it important?
Let’s look at it from the perspective of our body. More and more research is discovering that our thoughts, our feelings, our stress levels, our pain, our memories, our food and many other factors contribute to the health of our entire body, right down to our cells. With any ecosystem that is studied, we are discovering that the health of the entire ecosystem relies on the health of its parts – and vice versa, the health of an ecosystem’s parts relies on the health of the entire system. Everything that happens within the ecosystem affects the other parts in some way, however small.
When we experience major life events with bang-like pain or joy or illness, the ripple effect is felt throughout our body and our entire being. The ribosomes in our cells may not have the ability to understand what happened, or why they are producing slightly more proteins or fewer proteins or weaker or stronger proteins. All they know is that they have to function based on the instructions they have received that include that small ripple that has reached their cell.
Scientists’ ability to detect gravitational waves will help them to discover the cosmic event that created them and to understand that event. That would be like the ribosomes in one of our cells figuring out that a heart attack caused the small ripples that finally reached them and to learn more about heart attacks and other bodily phenomena by studying all of the ripples that reach their cell. Gravitational waves help us to understand our universal ecosystem.
Maybe some day we’ll discover how major intra-universal events (within our universal body) affect Earth and us. Maybe we’ll even learn to detect and understand events that occur outside of our universe (inter-universal) and how their ripple of energy affects all of us inside… Yes, the concept of inter-universal events is mind-blowing and perhaps we are already on our way with some new mathematical horizons.
It’s too early at this stage in the game to state with certainty that these small ripples in space do or do not have any effect on us. But when we examine it from the perspective of micro/macro patterns or universe as body/ecosystem, we can see how everything around us has some kind of effect on us, no matter how microscopic or cosmically gigantuous.
Learn more about gravitational waves.