Listening to the Universe

The discovery of gravitational waves by a pair of detection devices in the United States was major news in the field of astronomy. Originally proposed by Albert Einstein in his theory of relativity, the existence of gravitational waves was confirmed by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory when it detected tremors caused by the collision of two black holes in a distant galaxy. LIGO is a major project of CalTech, M.I.T. and the National Science Foundation. Over $1 billion has been spent on the search since it began decades ago. This fall LIGO unveiled more sophisticated detection technology that helped lead to this most recent discovery.

For astronomers, the detection of gravitational waves marks the official birth of a new field of study. “Gravitational waves provide a completely new way of looking at the universe,” said Stephen Hawking. One billion dollars may seem like a steep price to pay for what, at the moment, is mostly theoretical knowledge. Astronomers engaged in this work are sometimes asked, “Wouldn’t this money be better spent elsewhere?” A helpful answer is provided by Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit brother who is the director of the Vatican Observatory, where news of the detection of gravitational waves was greeted with great excitement. Astronomy, he explains, “is something every human being alive can take pride in.” Everyone can look up at the stars and marvel at the planets. Astronomy can bring people together and give scientists a better understanding of the working of the universe. “Science is where I get to spend time with the Creator,” Brother Consolmagno once said. Seen as a great human undertaking, one that can unite scientists around the world, believers or not, astronomy becomes a pursuit very much worth our time, our money and our imagination.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Bruce Snowden
2 years 7 months ago
"Listening to the Universe," Is that assertion poetry, or really a "sink you teeth into the meat" reality? About forty years ago I remember hearing it said that celestial orbs like planets, make music as they move in their fixed patterns, then for years nothing more about that interesting possibility. Then suddenly, a few day ago I heard stated on TV, that music was heard on the far side of the Moon! Wow! Is celestial creation really symphonized, in some ways making "music" like a spinning top does? Sounds like something you'd connect to C.S. Lewis's "Out Of The Silent Planet." Einstein once said that the Church's teaching on Transubstantiation was "fascinating." "Yeah Man," as they say down here in Southern Georgia, the possibility of celestial music really fascinates me and I would like to hear more about it.
J Cosgrove
2 years 7 months ago
If I was going to point to one Catholic in the US who is making a difference, it would be a Jesuit, Fr. Robert Spitzer SJ. I just came across Fr. Spitzer's book, New Proofs for the Existence of God recently. A good bit of the book is on cosmology or the physics of the universe. Fr. Spitzer also has published other books on how one should lead their lives. His organization is called the Magis Center and his web site is Fr. Spitzer's work should be featured more on the America website. He was president of Gonzaga University for about 10 years before going off to do even greater things.
Ashley McKinless
2 years 7 months ago

Thank you for your comment. We did in fact have an interview with Fr. Spitzer in December:

J Cosgrove
2 years 7 months ago
I read the article and left a long reply on it a couple months ago. I came across Fr. Spitzer on a webpage awhile ago that was discussing the fine tuning of the universe. I then followed it to his home page and found out that one, he was not a physicist which completely surprised me but had published several books and videos for people of all ages on numerous topics. One was a video on happiness which I have forwarded to several people for themselves and their children It was extremely good and may be a topic to cover in future interviews with Fr. Spitzer. Here is the link to the video. There are longer versions on this topic,


The latest from america

The tête-à-tête between Paul Krugman and Nancy Pelosi in Manhattan was like a documentary about a once-popular rock band. (Rod Morata/Michael Priest Photography)
Speaking in a deep blue stronghold, the Democratic leader of the House calls for “civility” and cautiously hopes that she will again wield the speaker’s gavel in January.
Brandon SanchezOctober 16, 2018
The lecture provoked no hostile reaction from the students who heard it. But a media firestorm erupted.
John J. ConleyOctober 16, 2018
Though the current synod appears to lack the sort of drama and high-stakes debates of the previous two, the role of conscience appears to be a common thread.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 16, 2018
When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the Olympic podium, their act drew widespread criticism. Now Colin Kaepernick is the face of Nike.
Michael McKinleyOctober 16, 2018