By Brian Nixon, Special to ASSIST News Service
SOCCORO, NEW MEXICO (ANS – Feb. 15, 2016) — 50 miles outside of Socorro, New Mexico there stands one of the marvels of the modern scientific world: The Very Large Array (VLA). For those not familiar with the telescopes (or haven’t seen them in the multitude of movies they’ve been featured), here’s how the Very Large Array website describes them:
“The Very Large Array, one of the world’s premier astronomical radio observatories, consists of 27 radio antennas in a Y-shaped configuration on the Plains of San Agustin fifty miles west of Socorro, New Mexico. Each antenna is 25 meters (82 feet) in diameter. The data from the antennas is combined electronically to give the resolution of an antenna 36km (22 miles) across, with the sensitivity of a dish 130 meters (422 feet) in diameter” .
This short description doesn’t give much in the way of the function of the telescopes. The motto, however, is very telling: “revealing the hidden universe.” The Very Large Array has been at the forefront of investigation into the inner workings of the mysterious cosmos: black holes, quasars, supernova, and gamma ray bursts. And in 1995, The Very Large Array was used in conjunction with the national SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) program. All of this makes The Very Large Array a fascinating and somewhat enigmatic confluence of science, culture, and creative energy.
And this convergence of fields is the reason my family wanted to take a tour of the telescopes on the heels of the recent gravitational waves discovery, which, incidentally, gave more data supporting Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. True, we wanted to see where movies such as Terminator, Interstellar, and Contact were filmed, but more importantly, we wanted to take in the science that occurs all around us in New Mexico, giving us a glimpse of humanities quest to understand the universe in which we live.
As we watched the movie at the visitors center, toured the base of one the telescopes, and read the literature provided by the VLA, I couldn’t help but marvel at the grandeur of it all; it’s mind- boggling, an intellectual and informational tour-de-force of man’s mission to comprehend and apprehend our place in this small point in the universe, the Milky Way. I felt like travel writer and photo-explorer, J.D Andrews, when he said, “It’s a big world out there. It would be a shame not to experience it.” But the world I’m reading about at the VLA isn’t just planet Earth—it’s the cosmos! And I’m experiencing it through a conjoining of radio waves and satellite telescopes.
Though I loved my time at the VLA, my mind kept wandering back to the gravitational wave discovery. I was mussing to myself while meandering through the VLA museum: what does the discovery mean? How will the discovery of gravitational waves help shape our understanding of the cosmos? How are we learning more about the mind of God (as scientist, Dr. Paul Davies, suggests through the study of science)? It may be too early to tell what the significance of the gravitation wave discovery will mean, but that’s not stopping some from speculating. Here’s what a few scientist have suggested will come from this discovery.
According to theoretical physicist, Dr. Cliff Burgess, “It’s a whole new way of seeing the sky. If you look with visible light as far as we can look in the universe, the universe is no longer transparent, it becomes opaque. There’s nothing you can do about that.
“If you could see [gravitational waves], you can see back past where you can’t see with physical light. That would be cool. We’d have direct access to something that’s farther away than we can hope to see otherwise.” .
Another scientist, Dr. Gabreila Gonzalez, likens the discovery to listening. She states, “We can now hear the universe” . The consequence of hearing the universe provides scientists with a deeper understanding of the expansion of the universe, an area of research connected to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and verified by Edwin Hubble in 1929 .
Astrophysicist, Dr. Hugh Ross, suggests something more profound: the discovery supports a Biblical view of creation. In a Christian Post interview, Ross states, “The Bible was the first to predict big bang cosmology” . Put another way, the Bible inherently teaches that the universe is expanding by an act of God; the consequence of the act (The Big Bang) is an expanding universe. For Ross, discoveries like this show us God’s fingerprints upon His creation.
Teachers and scientists will continue to tease us with the truth of the discovery, telling us more about the universe and the possibilities tethered to the truth. It’s all tantalizing.
But for now, the details of the discovery play out like a Shakespearean play.
As told by Adrian Cho for Science Magazine, he writes, “On 14 September 2015, at 9:50:45 universal time—4:50 a.m. in Louisiana and 2:50 a.m. in Washington—LIGO’s automated systems detected just such a signal. The oscillation emerged at a frequency of 35 cycles per second, or Hertz, and sped up to 250 Hz before disappearing 0.25 seconds later. The increasing frequency, or chirp, jibes with two massive bodies spiraling into each other. The 0.007-second delay between the signals in Louisiana and Washington is the right timing for a light-speed wave zipping across both detectors.”
Lots of science-speak! In short, the LIGO team watched the convergence of two black holes, anticipating a collision so great the effects could be measured.
Cho continues, “The collision produced an astounding, invisible explosion. Modeling shows that the final black hole totals 62 solar masses—3 solar masses less than the sum of the initial black holes. The missing mass vanished in gravitational radiation—a conversion of mass to energy that makes an atomic bomb look like a spark” 
I don’t know about you, but discoveries like this light my fire; they provide a sense of enchantment and delight with the universe, an awe that ignites my imagination. Whether you believe in God or not, it’s discoveries such as this that causes one to pause—and depending on your worldview, you can praise the One who put the magisterial universe in place, or you can simply ponder the meaning of it. Either-or, it’s a reason to celebrate. All people can laud truth. For the theist, truth—wherever it is found—is from God. And more specifically, God has manifested His truth in both the Word and world, as Author, Architect, and, in this case, Divine Astronomer. And when we are privileged to see the spectacle of His truth made visible—such as the gravitational wave discovery does, we can only sit back as witnesses, watching the wonder unfold before our eyes.
Photo captions: 1) Albert Einstein. 2) Gravity is Talking. 3) VLA at Sunrise. 4) Brian Nixon.
About the writer: Brian Nixon is a writer, musician, and minister. He’s a graduate of California State University, Stanislaus (BA) and is a Fellow at Oxford Graduate School (D.Phil.). To learn more, click here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brian_Nixon or https://twitter.com/BnixNews.
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