The sighting came from a small telescope on the roof of a laboratory sat on the ice sheet three quarters of a mile from the geographic South Pole. First came the rumours. But then researchers at the Harvard-Smithsonian Centre for Astrophysics went public. Their telescope had spotted indirect evidence of gravitational waves, or ripples in space-time, from the earliest moments of the universe.
The scientists have not yet published their work, and no other team has confirmed the finding. Yet even without these mainstays of scientific rigour, excitement has swept through the community and into the world beyond. If confirmed, the observation will rank among the greatest scientific discoveries of the past 20 years. A Nobel prize is all but guaranteed.
When Marion Block Anderson, an altogether exceptional woman, was a freshman at Oberlin College in 1951, she reached out to “the quintessential modern genius” and asked him, “Why are we alive?” She later told Dave about the impetus for her letter:
“We were having one war after another — first we had the First World War, then we had the Second World War and I just couldn’t see any point to the whole thing. So I wrote him a letter and I said, ‘What’s the point of living with what we’re going through here — having one war after another?’”
Lo and behold, Einstein wrote back. While short, his letter extends with exquisite precision both the answer to the question about the meaning of life and his views on religion: