Earlier this week, the mathematical physicist and quantum cosmologist Maya Benowitz tweeted that there was a massive announcement in the world of physics coming on June 29.

“Buckle up, we’re going for one helluva ride,” she said.

Her tweet stirred up plenty of controversy, with people accusing her of over-dramatizing the announcement. She even went so far as to say that “all of my joy for physics Twitter is gone.”

Well, the date is June 30, and an international consortium of research collaborations led by the North American Nanohertz Observatory for Gravitational Waves, or NANOGrav, has released the results of a 15-year study. And while no, it doesn’t change jack for the average person, the findings are actually really cool if you want to hear about them.

TikTok’s resident scientific explainer Hank Green does a great job translating the results for us normal people. Or you can read my feeble attempt at an explanation. (For the record, my endeavor towards a Physics and Astronomy major lasted through my sophomore year, where Schrödinger’s equation knocked me onto a journalism path.)

@hankgreen1 Replying to @Juliana Marx #askhank #physics (posted by @Payton Mitchell ♬ original sound - Hank Green

@hankgreen1 Replying to @jerma The Hugest Congratulations to all of the Pulsar Timing Array people around the world, including especially folks who spearheaded and fought for these ideas even when they were very unproven. With any project of this scale, some of those people will not have survived to see this day, but the things we make together always outlast us, and that is certainly true of this new tool. #askhank #physics #science (posted by @Payton Mitchell ♬ original sound - Hank Green

In short, as The New York Times puts it, researchers have discovered “the existence of a low-pitch hum of gravitational waves reverberating across the universe.” And although gravitational waves were officially discovered back in 2015, these new reverberating, low-frequency waves, can be used to tell us about the formation of the early universe, and perhaps even give us a glimpse into the cosmos just seconds after the big bang.

Scientists have been using cosmic microwave background radiation left over from the big bang to learn about the early universe since the 1960s, but gravitational waves can get much closer to the bang itself, as they would have been emitted almost instantly.

Perhaps even more revolutionary than the discovery itself, is the way astronomers came up with it. Gravitational wave detectors on Earth are simply too small to register the low-frequency gravitational waves that early supermassive black holes or the big bang produced. 

So, astronomers used pulsars, (rapidly rotating neutron stars that emit a ‘pulse’ of radiation at regular intervals) to act as detectors on a cosmic scale. By measuring irregularities in the pulses and comparing those with other pulsars, scientists were able to effectively use our entire Milky Way galaxy as a massive gravitational wave detector. Pretty cool, (if you’re a nerd).

Using gravitational waves to observe the universe is still a young concept, and there is a ton more to be learned. So even if you couldn’t care less, Hank Green, Maya Benowitz, and plenty of other scientists are pretty pumped. So can we just let them have their moment?