Written by Chad Echakowitz
Yes, I am talking about that Force. The one that Yoda and countless other Jedi studied the intricacies of in order to lift heavy things, open doors without touching them, and come back from the dead as a blue ghost. Though originally a thing of Science-Fiction, it is in fact, fact. However, it is not called The Force in our reality. Instead it is called gravity.
Gravity, like The Force, surrounds us, and binds us, and is a powerful ally. Gravity is the force which keeps us from floating away into space. But it is also so much more than that. In 2016, an exceedingly talented group of scientists confirmed a theory that had first been discussed 123 years before its discovery: they were able to successfully detect gravitational waves. It is with the confirmation of gravitational waves that we can begin to dream of The Force as a real thing present in our Universe.
Imagine you’re in a bathtub, or a pond, or any body of water. In your hand you hold a small ball, which floats on the water. As you push the ball through the water, the ball moves, creating ripples that propagate outward from the ball. The ball represents a planet, or other giant mass, the water is Spacetime, and the ripples represent gravitational waves. According to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, gravity is the result of curving Spacetime around a mass. To keep the metaphor going, when the ball is in the water, the water distorts and moves around the ball to accommodate its shape and mass. It does not flow through the ball, but bends around it. Spacetime does the same to a planet or other large body such as a star or a black hole, distorting Spacetime by expanding and contracting it. The larger the object, the more distortion. This distortion produces a gravitational field which, like Spacetime, will be influenced by the size and weight of the object. Much like the ball moving through the water to create ripples, when the space object moves through Spacetime the distortion in the Spacetime changes to reflect the change in location. This creates ripples known as gravitational waves. Gravitational waves travel at the speed of light and are a result of the accelerating object’s movement.
If one could observe gravitational waves, one would see a rhythmical increase and decrease in distance. Yes, that is correct: if you could see a gravitational wave, you would literally be able to see the distance between you and the origin of the wave become smaller and then larger and then smaller again and so on until the wave passes you. Unfortunately, objects which create gravitational waves, such as black holes, Neutron stars, and binary star systems, are so far away that by the time the wave reaches the Earth it is so small, it has little effect. This is why we haven't been able to detect them until now, and this is why their discovery is even more astonishing. Through the collaborative efforts of the Virgo Team and the LIGO, scientists were able to detect a gravitational wave creating a distortion (known as strain) of one part in 5×1022. That means that we have come to a point in time where our technology can detect changes in gravity smaller than a ten thousandth the size of a proton.
It is now time to move from the science, to the application. More specifically, the all-too important relation between gravity and The Force. The proof that gravitational waves exist shows that gravity has some form of substance and is all around us. Of course, most of this has been known for years but with the discovery of gravitational waves we can learn so much more about gravity, planets, the early universe and the application of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity. With an ever-expanding knowledge of how gravity works, we could figure out a way to manipulate the gravitational field, and potentially how to influence distance, time and mass, all three of which are necessary to create a gravitational field.
By manipulating the fabric of Spacetime around an object, distorting it more or less, one could influence the gravitational pull of the object, as well as how time runs around the object. By manipulating an object's mass, we could increase or decrease it's gravity, making other objects seem lighter or heavier. This could also cause time to slow down or speed up around it. It will also increase or decrease the gravitational pull of the object, which means one could move objects around them with ease. Of course, because of the pull of Earth's gravity in comparison to our own, our personal gravitational pull - yes, everyone has their own gravitational pull - is so small, it has no real effect. We would have to somehow manipulate the Spacetime around us as to become influential in comparison to Earth's gravity which may lead to a series of problems in its own right, even if it were possible.
Unfortunately, this is all highly theoretical and may just be a science-fiction dream. There is no hard evidence that this would ever be possible even though, in theory, it could work. Yet the ability to manipulate Spacetime eludes us and our understanding of the Universe has only increased ever so slightly with the discovery of gravitational waves. We still have a lot to learn before we are anywhere close enough to utilising gravity like Yoda utilises The Force.
Even if we never get to a stage where humans are walking around in big brown robes controlling The (Gravitational) Force, it is still baffling to think that there is an amazing force that surrounds us that distorts and shapes itself to our masses. Even more baffling is the fact that science has become so advanced that we can discover the tiniest blip of a disturbance over astronomical distances. Every year we learn even more about planets, black holes, the early Universe, and how gravity works. The future is vast with possibilities. The technological advances in science can take us anywhere, even to galaxies far, far away.
May the Gravitational Force be with you.