On a spot in Tibet situated over 5,250 meters (17,200 feet) above sea level, China is building a telescope designed to research gravitational waves. The area is ideal, given that it has a clear view of the sky and human activity is very minimal. The telescope, code named Ngari No. 1, is already under construction with an operational date of 2021.
Ngari No. 1, as hinted by the name, is only the first of several such telescopes China is building, The second project, Ngari No. 2, will be built at an altitude of about 6,000 meters and consists of a series of telescopes.
Clearer View of the Universe
Gravitational waves offer a unique way to study the universe, since they are unaffected by typical cosmic noise. They do interact very weakly with matter as they travel through space at the speed of light, allowing their study to be informative about the universe.
Gravitational waves are completely different from standard electromagnetic radiation that otherwise populates the universe. They can be considered a “ripple” in the fabric of space time itself, created by violent events taking place in the universe. Colliding black holes, supernovas, coalescing neutron stars, and even the creation of the universe itself are theorized to generate gravitational waves.
Einstein proposed the existence of the waves in his Theory of General Relativity, but it wasn’t until February 2016 that scientists could prove their existence. The experiment by Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected the gravitational waves produced by two black holes colliding over 1.3 billion years ago.
The researchers were able to isolate the the source of the waves to a location near the Large Magellanic Cloud, a small galaxy found in the southern Earth sky. The discovery opens the door for new ways to view the universe. As Kip Thorne, a theoretical physicist from Caltech, said,
With this discovery, we humans are embarking on a marvelous new quest: the quest to explore the warped side of the universe — objects and phenomena that are made from warped space-time. Colliding black holes and gravitational waves are our first beautiful examples.
With the construction of China’s Gravitational Telescopes we are seeing the application of the theory. As to where it will lead, this is unknown at the moment. But there is a whole universe out there to explore, so anything could happen.