Wave of the Century

Originally published in ANU Reporter:

The discovery of gravitational waves is the culmination of a search by a generation of ANU physicists, reports DR PHIL DOOLEY, BSc (Hons) ’90, PhD ’99.

An excited hush fell over the briefing room at Parliament House as Professor David McClelland stepped up to the microphone.

“I’m pretty sure you all know by now but I want to say it. We’ve done it,” he said as his voice quavered.

Spontaneous applause broke out, as McClelland allowed himself a smile. Camera flashes popped and TV cameras zoomed in.

“We detected a wave that was generated 1.3 billion years ago when two black holes crashed into each another… the most violent event ever witnessed.”

The announcement was sweet reward for McClelland, an ANU laser physicist who has spent his career working towards this moment.

Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves but thought they were too small for humans to ever detect.

To prove Einstein wrong and right in a single stroke is rare treat for a scientist.

“This is a moment that will be remembered for a thousand years,” McClelland said.

Gravitational waves are vibrations of space and time themselves, one of the most outlandish predictions of Einstein’s 1916 General Theory of Relativity. Yet, they appeared exactly as predicted and join the long list of successes of Einstein’s theory over the last century.

The first success of Relativity came three years after Einstein’s publication, when a solar eclipse allowed astronomers to pick out the tiny deflection of distant starlight by the sun’s gravity.


Using antimatter to find weirdo supernovae

Fiona Panther is searching out galaxy for antimatter – no it’s not science fiction, she’s after anti – electrons, called positrons. It’ll help her to study supernovae – exploding stars.

Fi is a PhD student at ANU Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics, Mt Stromlo.

Filmed at Physics in the Pub, 2016, Smith’s Alternative. Supported by Australian Institute of Physics and National Science Week.


How to study Astronomy with a balloon

We know PhD students like to do things on the cheap… well Ryan Ridden-Harper is doing high altitude astronomy – like the Hubble space telescope – but with no expensive satellite, just a weather balloon. He hopes it will give nice cheap insights into dark energy!


Gravitational Waves – behind the scenes

I had the honour to interview David Reitze, one of the leaders in gravitational wave physics, when he visited Canberra earlier this year.

Bit surprised he wasn’t one of the Nobel laureates… but anyway, ahead of the exciting announcement tomorrow, (what have they found this time?!),  here’s the interview.


And for those who just want the highlights:


Juggling the ingredients for fusion

News from the UK today that new tokamak ST-40 has been turned on, so I thought I’d post a little explainer about how fusion works.


Shooting Star collides with star

I wrote this as a writing test in a job interview for CSIRO. Thought it was OK – but i didn’t get the job….


Have you ever wondered what would happen if a shooting star collided with a star? Well, scientists at CSIRO think they have discovered just that! Unfortunately the collision is too far away to see, but the scientists have discovered that Star PSR J0738-4042 is bombarded – regularly!

Shooting stars are actually pieces of spacerock that burn up as they fall into our atmosphere. Spacerocks are falling into PSR J0738-4042 as a result of it exploding in the past, flinging out debris that is now falling back in on itself.

In the explosion the star became a pulsar that shoots out radio waves as it spins, at nearly three turns per second. The falling debris gets zapped by the radio waves, turning it into plasma, which then affects the star’s regular pulses. By measuring changes in the pulses the scientists calculated the mass of one of the rocks at around a billion tonnes!



CSI Space -Physics in the Pub

It’s a peaceful starry night, but Pete Kuzma has found the remains of a grisly murder in the sky – a dismembered dwarf. galaxy.

Part of the Physics in the Pub 2016 with Australian Institute of Physics ACT branch, supported by a National Science Week seed grant.

Filming by Jon and Liam from Crus Productions.


There are gravitational waves in my bed

Amazing news that gravitational waves have been detected, but they were there in you bedroom and your kitchen all along…


Hey Plute

Why was Pluto demoted? Even after the successful flypast in 2015, he was still not reinstated. Sing along and help him get back in with the big boys.


(… just a hint… he’s got no chance)