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Swinburne Astronomy Public Lecture

Rumours were getting louder, something had happened, possibly a big discovery…

At the beginning of 2016, I was invited to give a public lecture at Swinburne University, were I was working as a postdoc. It would be the first Astronomy lecture of the year, and the topic would be black holes and gravitational waves. By that time, rumours had spread that LIGO, the 4km-long gravitational-wave observatory, had finally detected the first signal. The scientific community knew that, if true, it would be an unprecedented discovery, a historical milestone comparable to the detection of the Higgs’ Boson. The first observation of gravitational waves would be a new means to observe astronomical events: a new window to the Universe. The organiser of the lecture informed me that more than 400 people had confirmed their attendance: we had a full house.

As I was preparing the slides of the presentation, I wondered what its content should be. Given that the detection was not yet official, should I prepare the typical theoretical talk, showing simulated plots of how the observation of a black hole merger would look like? Or should I instead talk about an amazing discovery: the true, unique and first observation of gravitational waves?

In the end, the rumours were confirmed, and the public announcement of the discovery was made on the 11th of February, just one week before the date of my lecture. And therefore, I had the chance to give the first public lecture of the year at the university, and probably among the first in the world, about the detection of gravitational waves, one of the greatest scientific discoveries of all time!

This video is a summary of that lecture. Here I explain, without using any math, what black holes and gravitational waves are, as well as pulsars, supernovae, supermassive black holes and more. And I explain the discovery of gravitational waves by using the metaphor of a unique love story…

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