Italy boffins pivotal in opening new window on universe

Following the landmark discovery of gravitational waves on Thursday, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi heaped praise on the Italian Institute for Nuclear Physics (INFN), which played a vital role in Thursday's game- changing discovery.

Italy boffins pivotal in opening new window on universe
Scientists confirmed the existence of gravitational waves on Thursday. Photo: Ligo

INFN scientists, working at the Virgo project in Cascina, near Pisa in Tuscany, collaborated closely with American counterparts to confirm the presence of gravitational waves first theorized by Albert Einstein 100 years ago.

Speaking to Ansa on Thursday, INFN president Fernando Ferroni said his staff had even received a congratulatory phone call from Matteo Renzi for their part in the discovery.

“It's a result that sets the seal on the theory of general relativity formulated exactly 100 years ago: it is a birthday present for Einstein,” Ferroni said.

“Even with great difficulties around us, we managed to find a way that leads us to discovery,” he added.

INFN boffins worked to analyze data sent by Scientists from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (Ligo) who had been working on the detection of the waves for years.

At the Ligo observatory in the US, light beams were fired along two four-kilometer long tunnels. Scientists measured the interference of the lazers as the space between them was stretched and squashed by passing gravitational waves.

In order to measure an intergalactic phenomenon over 4km the precision needed was incredible – and involved 1,000 scientists from 14 countries and 90 universities around the globe.

What are gravitational waves?

Waves are produced by disturbances in the fabric of space and time when a massive object moves, like a black hole or a neutron star.

Einstein theorized that they would appear like ripples in a pond that form when a stone is thrown in the water, or like a net that bows under the weight of an object placed within – with the net serving as a metaphor for the bending of space-time. 

Why are they important?

The ability to observe these gravitational waves offers astronomers and physicists a new look at the most mysterious workings of the universe, including the fusion of neutron stars and the behaviors of black holes, which are often found in the centers of galaxies.

“The driving force of the universe is gravity,” said Tuck Stebbins, Gravitational Astrophysics Lab Chief at Nasa's Goddard Space Flight Center. 

“These waves are streaming to you all the time and if you could see them, you could see back to the first one trillionth of a second of the Big Bang,” he told AFP. 

“There is no other way for humanity to see the origin of the universe.”  

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Italy’s Renzi wants ex-ECB boss Draghi to become prime minister: report

Ex-PM Matteo Renzi would like to see former European Central Bank chief Mario Draghi become prime minister of Italy, a party source told Reuters on Sunday.

Italy's Renzi wants ex-ECB boss Draghi to become prime minister: report
Matteo Renzi. Image: Andreas Solaro/ POOL / AFP

“I would say that is one of our proposals,” confirmed the source, who declined to be named.

The Italian government collapsed last week when PM Giuseppe Conte resigned. The former coalition allies are currently trying to come to an agreement and sort out their differences.

The centre-left government had been in turmoil ever since former premier Matteo Renzi withdrew his Italia Viva party earlier this month, a move that forced Conte to step down this week.

During the past year, Renzi frequently criticised Conte’s management of the pandemic and economic crisis.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper also reported on Sunday that President Sergio Mattarella was considering Draghi for the prime ministerial role. However, Mattarella’s office promptly denied this, saying there had been no contact between them.

So far, there has been no comment from Draghi, who hasn't been seen much in the public eye since 2019.

Italy's president, Sergio Mattarella, gave ruling parties more time on Friday to form a new government, after the resignation of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. 

Coalition parties Italia Viva, the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and anti-establishment 5-Star Movement must come to an agreement to allow the government to heal. 

Renzi, a former prime minister himself, has pubilcly stated that he does not want to talk about who should lead the next government at this stage, reasoning that the parties need to agree on a way forward first.

“Any effort today to fuel a discussion about Draghi is offensive to Draghi and above all to the president of the republic,” Renzi said in an interview published on Sunday with Corriere della Sera.

A senior Italia Viva lawmaker also told Reuters that “If the president gives a mandate to Draghi, we would certainly support this”. 

Renzi, whose party is not even registering three percent support in opinion polls, quit the coalition over Conte’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and his plans for spending more than 200 billion euros from a European Union fund to help Italy’s damaged economy.

READ ALSO: Why do Italy's governments collapse so often?