Rumors about discovery of gravitational waves have been making furious rounds of social media. First theorized by Albert Einstein over a century ago, these undulations in the fabric of space-time are caused by cataclysmic events, but are extremely hard to detect. However, a tweet from Lawrence Krauss, a cosmologist at Arizona State University, seemed to confirm the discovery through an advanced detector setup for the express purpose.
The physics community is unable to contain its excitement, after news about direct discovery of gravitational waves, reported Gizmodo. These waves, produced by humongous events in space, like two stars or two black holes colliding, was first predicted a century ago by Albert Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity. But there has been no conclusive evidence supporting the existence of the gravitational waves until today.
It all started after Lawrence Krauss, a cosmologist at Arizona State University, tweeted in September that he had received a rumor about the LIGO detector, finding a gravitational wave.
Rumor of a gravitational wave detection at LIGO detector. Amazing if true. Will post details if it survives.— Lawrence M. Krauss (@LKrauss1) September 25, 2015
The excitement is justified because it centers on a experiment known as the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), which uses detectors in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, to look for ripples in the fabric of space-time, reported the Guardian. The detector had been running for a long time, but failed to find any proof about the gravitational waves. Hence a more powerful, advanced LIGO, about three times more sensitive than the original detector, was commissioned. The detector started operating in September, 2015, reports Business Insider.
Within three months, the powerful LIGO may have detected the highly elusive gravitational waves. Kruass followed up on the rumor Monday, adding he had received “independent confirmation” of the rumor, adding that “Gravitational waves may have been discovered!!”
My earlier rumor about LIGO has been confirmed by independent sources. Stay tuned! Gravitational waves may have been discovered!! Exciting.— Lawrence M. Krauss (@LKrauss1) January 11, 2016
As with all such discoveries, folks from LIGO aren’t willing to confirm or deny the detection of the gravitational waves. Gabriela Gonzalez, physicist and spokesperson for LIGO offered a non-committal reply.
“We will share results when ready but have nothing yet — it takes months to analyze the data, interpret results and review them.”
Such rumors about detecting gravitational waves have surfaced in the past, only to have them refuted. In fact, researchers on another U.S. experiment, called BICEP2, had famously called a press conference to announce they had discovered the waves, reported the Christian Science Monitor. However, a scathing peer review indicated that the signal could have been due to space dust.
Gravitational waves can unlock entirely new perspective to observe the universe, Krauss had said earlier.
“We would have a new window on the universe. Gravitational waves are generated in the most exotic, strange locations in nature, such as at the edge of black holes at the beginning of time. We are pretty certain they exist, but we’ve not been able to use them to probe the universe.”
Einstein had predicted the existence of gravitational waves way back in 1915, but had expressed his reservations about actually detecting their existence. These ripples are created after extremely violent celestial events like the collisions of two super massive black holes or supernovas. As these waves spread out in the vast expanse of space, they compress and stretch space-time, similar to a drop of water falling on a still body of water. These waves might have originated during the Big Bang, which happened about 13.8 billion years ago, can carry energy from huge events through the universe as gravitational radiation, reported Science World Report.
Incidentally, engineers at LIGO occasionally add synthetic signals to data to conduct integrity checks and test the equipment. Krauss followed up on his tweet, saying these signals about gravitational waves, weren’t added artificially.
Re LIGO. Caveat earlier mentioned: they have engineering runs with blind signals inserted that mimic discoveries. Am told this isn't one.— Lawrence M. Krauss (@LKrauss1) January 11, 2016
However, he did add a cautious note, saying the following.
“I don’t know if the rumor is solid. If I don’t hear anything in the next two months, I’ll conclude it was false.”
[Photo by NASA/Getty Images]