Einstein Saw Space Move, Long Before We Could Hear It With all the excitement over the discovery of gravitational waves, NPR's Linda Wertheimer takes a moment to remember the man who first imagined a universe we couldn't yet see: Albert Einstein.
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Einstein Saw Space Move, Long Before We Could Hear It

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Einstein Saw Space Move, Long Before We Could Hear It

Einstein Saw Space Move, Long Before We Could Hear It

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Here we are in an election year once again asking the great see-into-the-future question in politics, who will be the next president? Yesterday, I picked up the paper - I still have a paper to pick up - and read about a man who did see into the future, Albert Einstein. He developed his theory of general relativity in the early 20th century. And in 1915, he announced his theory that space and time are woven together, and that events in the universe can cause space and time to move, to bob and jiggle, stretch and ripple. Einstein's ideas overturned previous ones of an orderly universe where planets and solar systems revolved in a calm and eternal magnificence. And this particular notion of space and time moving was, you might say, out there, not possible to observe.

Now 100 years later, this most mysterious piece of Albert Einstein's imaginings has reached out to scientists on Earth in the form of a chime, a chirp, a sound, which one scientist described as what you might hear if you ran your thumb over piano keys, from the lowest rumbly bass to middle C, a chirp in C, which left a distant part of the universe more than a billion years ago and rippled outward, beginning a journey to a very different earth. An extraordinary group of scientists, starting in the '70s, began work on ways to listen to the universe and perhaps to hear the sound of space and time moving and bending.

Over the years, three men, Ronald Drever and Kip Thorne at Caltech and Rainer Weiss of MIT, searched for a way to detect the movement that, by this time, most scientists believed in but still could not observe. They built two structures called laser inferometer (ph) gravitational-wave observatories, huge tubes and mirrors to detect and measure impossibly tiny shifts in space and time. And last September, they did it. Two huge black holes fell into one another more than a billion years ago and rattled space and time. And in September, scientists heard that sound and recorded it. It's impossibly impressive, a very great achievement. But one of the things we must celebrate is that 100 years ago, a funny looking little fellow with flyaway hair trained his powerful brain on the universe and imagined what might be true and was right.

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