It's official: Einstein was right. And it took only 101 years to prove it.
A century after announcing his Theory of Relativity, the most elusive premise of which suggested the existence of gravitational waves, scientists say they've finally recorded direct evidence of the tiny ripples in space-time. A report published Thursday by scientists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) reveals that two giant antennas in Louisiana and Washington State recorded two separate vibrations on September 14, 2015, that are the sounds of two black holes colliding a billion light-years away, The New York Times reports.
For entrepreneurs with a (really) big idea, the lag time between Einstein's theory and the evidence supporting it serves as a valuable lesson: The greater the breakthrough, the longer it can take to demonstrate proof of concept.
"It's been decades, through a lot of different technological innovations," France Cordova, director of the National Science Foundation, told the Times. It took the foundation more than 40 years and over $1 billion to produce LIGO. While entrepreneurs like Elon Musk and Richard Branson are known for pushing technology to the limit, it would be hard to argue that either are a century ahead of their time.
So what exactly did Einstein see that took 100 years for technology to prove?
Before announcing his theory, the prevailing wisdom since the time of Isaac Newton stated that no amount of energy could stretch the fabric of the space and time. Essentially, Newton said, the structure of the universe was unshakable. Einstein posited that cosmic disturbances like black holes colliding did disrupt and distort the framework of the universe, producing gravity. Evidence of this distortion, he said, could be detected in the gravitational waves certain cosmic events would produce. Until now, however, we had never been able to detect them.
Building a system sensitive enough to detect a gravitational wave that creates a ripple one ten-thousandth the size of a subatomic particle--which not even the most powerful microscope can see--takes time. And money.
Critics of the effort to detect gravitational waves said the likelihood of success was too low to warrant such a billion-dollar budget. Physicists Kip Thorne at the California Institute of Technology, Rainer Weiss at MIT, and Donald Drever, who retired from Caltech, "bet their careers" on one day being able to measure gravitational waves, the Times reports. The breakthrough essentially provides a window into the previously invisible movements of the universe.
"Until now, we scientists have only seen warped space-time when it's calm," Thorne told the Times in an email. "It's as though we had only seen the ocean's surface on a calm day but had never seen it roiled in a storm, with crashing waves."
Einstein, of course, saw the possibilities--like most forward-thinking entrepreneurs--long before the technology caught up.