Visions of the Future

Imagination is our window into the future. At NASA/JPL we strive to be bold in advancing the edge of possibility so that someday, with the help of new generations of innovators and explorers, these visions of the future can become a reality. As you look through these images of imaginative travel destinations, remember that you can be an architect of the future.



Paranal red sprites

First imaged in 1989, red sprites are a ghostly phenomenon that occur at high altitudes above thunderstorms. Photographed here by ESO Photo Ambassador Petr Horálek, the unmistakable tendrils of multiple red sprites are spotted approximately 600 kilometres away from ESO’s Paranal Observatory above distant thunderclouds.

To capture multiple sprites in one image, two exposures were combined. The upper sprite occurred nearly 21 minutes before the lower one.

In the foreground sits a lone 1.8-metre Auxiliary Telescope, part of ESO’s Very Large Telescope (VLT).

Credit: P. Horálek/ESO

ELI5: Why is today's announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves important, and what are the ramifications?

Since I actually tried to explain this to a pair of 5-year-olds today, I figure why not share :)

You know how when you throw a rock in a pool, there are ripples? And how if we throw bigger rocks in, they make bigger ripples?

Well, a long time ago, a really smart guy named Einstein said that stars and planets and stuff should make ripples in space, and he used some really cool math to explain why he thought that. Lots of people checked the math and agree that he was right.

But we’ve never been able to see those ripples before. Now some people built a really sensitive measuring thing that uses lasers to see them, and they just proved that their device works by seeing ripples from a really big splash. So now we know how to see them and we can get better at it, which will help us learn more about space. /cr

If Einstein is right (hint: HE IS), gravitational waves would travel outward from (for instance) two black holes circling each other just like the ripples in a pond. When they come to Earth and pass through the detectors, a signal can tell us not only that the gravitational wave has been found, but it can also tell us lots of information about the gravitational wave!

As you track what the gravitational waves look like over a (very) short amount of time, you can tell what kind of event caused them, like if it was two black holes colliding or a violent supernova… along with other details, like what the mass of these stars/black holes would have been!

This discovery has ushered in an awesome new era of astronomy. BEFORE we started detecting gravitational waves, looking out at the universe was like watching an orchestra without any sound! As our detectors start making regular observations of this stuff, it will be like turning on our ears to the symphony of the cosmos! /cr

Explain Like I`m Five: Follow and you`ll understand many things better. | cr