Rumours Are Flying That We Finally Found Gravitational Waves 

Rumours Are Flying That We Finally Found Gravitational Waves

Excited rumours began circulating on Twitter this morning that a major experiment designed to hunt for gravitational waves — ripples in the fabric of spacetime first predicted by Albert Einstein — has observed them directly for the very first time. If confirmed, this would be one of the most significant physics discoveries of the last century.

Move a large mass very suddenly — or have two massive objects suddenly collide, or a supernova explode — and you would create ripples in space-time, much like tossing a stone in a still pond. The more massive the object, the more it will churn the surrounding spacetime, and the stronger the gravitational waves it should produce. Einstein predicted their existence in his general theory of relativity back in 1915, but he thought it would never be possible to test that prediction.

LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) is one of several experiments designed to hunt for these elusive ripples, and with its latest upgrade to Advanced LIGO, completed last year, it has the best chance of doing so. In fact, it topped our list of physics stories to watch in 2016.

There have been excited rumours about a LIGO discovery before, most notably a mere week after the upgraded experiment began operations last fall. Lawrence Krauss, a physicist at Arizona State University, spilled the beans on Twitter, giving it a 10- to 15-per cent chance of being true. "The official response is that we're analysing the data," LIGO says Gabriela González (Louisiana State University) told Nature at the time.

Now it seems the rumours have resurfaced, and Krauss has been blabbing again:

We're guessing that once again, the official response will be that they're currently analysing the data and everyone should just be patient, because you can't rush this kind of tricky analysis. TL;DR: They will neither confirm nor deny the rumour. (Gizmodo has reached out to LIGO for comment.)

That's good advice in general when rumours of exciting breakthroughs begin circulating. But in this case, it's quite possible that they are true. Loyola University physicist Robert McNees pointed out on Twitter that he'd only made one prediction for physics breakthroughs in 2016: that Advanced LIGO would directly detect gravitational waves. And he certainly wasn't the only one to do so. He also had a few things to say about this brave new world we live in, where big physics news inevitably leaks out onto social media:

"I guess I'd say that rumours just reflect how excited we all get about the prospect of new discoveries. It's natural to feel that way! But the last thing we want to do is jump the gun," McNees told Gizmodo via Twitter DM. "The best way to support these scientists is to let them carry out their experiments and analysis the way they were meant to be done. Let them take the time to do things the right way! And as physicists, I think we need to greet the inevitable rumours with explanations of how science works and why it's so important to be careful. Even if that means having to wait for exciting news."

Sigh. Fine. We'll be hanging onto the edge of our seats waiting for official confirmation one way or the other. If true — well, it's a hell of a way to kick off 2016. And it would probably be a shoo-in for this year's Nobel Prize in Physics.

Image: Visualisation of gravity waves. UWM.


Comments

    If gravity is mass times acceleration how are there gravity Waves?

    Gravity only exists if a mass is accelerating or decelerating. Attraction between multiple sources of gravity is implicit on the gravity continuing to be generated by the source masses through their acceleration and deceleration. Gravity is not the attraction of masses toward a common centre unless there is an acceleration toward that centre. Masses are not only pulling toward that centre, they are pulling at that centre. It would be more accurate to suggest mass exists as a standing wave of space time bunched up between the pulling forces that are the same force. That force isn't gravity because somehow 'gravity' is just the part of the force pulling toward the centre. It isnt the whole force that generates the standing wave that is mass.

      Gravity is not mass times acceleration. That is the formula for Force. Gravity is not caused by acceleration, gravity causes acceleration through distortion of spacetime by mass. The effect of that acceleration on any other mass is a resultant force. The mass of the earth distorts spacetime resulting in an acceleration of 1G at its surface. That acceleration exerts a 1 newton force on a 102g apple, and a 98 newton force on me.

      Anyway, long story short, gravity waves are changes in the distortion of spacetime.

    Very cool. Once you can measure and study these waves there might be a way to manipulate or replicate them. Hover boards anyone. Or to think bigger maybe Gravity Drives to alow us to travel around and colonise our Solar System.

      It's easy to create gravity waves. You can create some right now by waggling a pencil. The problem is that gravity is so, so weak. It takes 5.9 thousand billion billion tons of iron to generate 1 G of acceleration on you.

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