Ripples in the fabric of space-time could offer an insight into the moment time began with the Big Bang.
Known as gravity waves, they travel at the speed of light and are produced by incredibly violent events such as collisions between black holes or neutron stars.
Researchers at Princeton University in the US believe that gravity waves from the very early universe might have affected stars whose light we can see on Earth today.
The finding could offer scientists a new way to understand the very early moments of the universe.
Since 2015, scientists have been able to detect and interpret gravitational waves thanks to detectors on Earth, including the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO).
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The LIGO project uses lasers to measure tiny changes in the length of a tunnel in an attempt to measure gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves, first predicted by Albert Einstein in 1916 as a consequence of his theory of relativity, are disturbances in space-time caused by the movement of very dense objects.
The researchers said they could better understand the state of the cosmos shortly after the Big Bang by learning how these ripples in the fabric of the universe flowed through planets and the gas between the galaxies.
Deepen Garg, a graduate student at the Princeton Program in Plasma Physics, said: “We can’t see the early universe directly, but maybe we can see it indirectly if we look at how gravitational waves from that time have affected matter and radiation that we can observe today.”
Garg adapted this technique from the team’s research into fusion energy, the process powering the Sun and stars that scientists are developing to create electricity on Earth without emitting greenhouse gases or producing long-lived radioactive waste.
Fusion scientists calculate how electromagnetic waves move through plasma, the soup of electrons and atomic nuclei that fuels fusion facilities known as tokamaks and stellarators.
It turns out that this process resembles the movement of gravitational waves through matter.
“We basically put plasma wave machinery to work on a gravitational wave problem,” Garg said.
Garg created formulas that could theoretically lead gravitational waves to reveal hidden properties about celestial bodies, like stars that are many light years away.
As the waves flow through matter, they create light whose characteristics depend on the matter’s density.
A physicist could analyse that light and discover properties about a star millions of light years away.
This technique could also lead to discoveries about the smashing together of neutron stars and black holes, ultra-dense remnants of star deaths.
It could even potentially reveal information about what was happening during the Big Bang and the early moments of our universe.
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