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Breve storia delle onde gravitazionali 03.10.17

Il Washington Post ripercorre la storia, la teoria e la fisica delle onde gravitazionali, la cui scoperta è valsa il Premio Nobel per la fisica a Rainer Weiss, Kip Thorne e Barry Barish.

Gravity is invisible, as you may have noticed, and a little bit spooky, because it seems to reach across space to cause actions at a distance without any obvious underlying mechanism. What goes up must come down, but why that is so has never been obvious.

Physicists tell us there are four fundamental forces in the universe: Gravity, electromagnetism, the strong nuclear force and the weak nuclear force. Of these, gravity is the most anemic, and yet over cosmic expanses it has shaped the universe. In our solar system, it governs the planets and moons in their orbits. On Earth, it motivates the apple to fall from the tree. You can feel it in your bones.

Aristotle believed that an object fell to Earth because it sought its natural place. Heavier objects, Aristotle believed, fell faster; weight was an inherent property of the object.

In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, Galileo brought scientific experiments into the conversation, and he discovered that a heavy object and a light object actually fall at the same speed. [...]

Galileo also discovered that objects always fall with constant acceleration and along a parabolic curve. [...]

Then came Isaac Newton. In the second half of the 17th century, he developed a universal law of gravity. He calculated that the attraction between two bodies was equal to the product of their masses divided by the square of the distance between them. This is true on Earth as well as in space. It explains the tides. It explains the motions of the planets around the sun. This is a basic law of nature, true anywhere in the universe.

But even Newton admitted that he didn’t understand the fundamental nature of this force. Newton could describe gravity mathematically, but he didn’t know how it achieved its effects.

In the early 20th century, Albert Einstein finally came up with an explanation, and it's rather astonishing. First he grasped that gravity and acceleration are the same thing. His General Theory of Relativity, formulated in 1915, describes gravity as a consequence of the way mass curves "spacetime," the fabric of the universe. It's all geometry. Objects in motion will move through space and time on the path of least resistance. A planet will orbit a star not because it is connected to the star by some kind of invisible tether, but because the space is warped around the star.