The scientific community is abuzz with rumours that “gravity waves” may have been detected which, if true, would mark one of the most important discoveries in physics in the last 100 years.
Up until now, physicists have theorised that ripples in the fabric of spacetime happen when huge celestial objects move.
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The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has been searching for these ripples (or gravitational waves) since 2002. Since September 2015 a more powerful, advanced LIGO started operating.
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The rumor first cropped up just a few weeks after the advanced LIGO started operating. Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss tweeted that LIGO may have found the elusive waves at last:
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
As promised, Krauss followed up today (January 11), and it seems the rumor has held true:
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
But the official word from LIGO is that there’s no news to report yet.
“We will share results when ready but have nothing yet — it takes months to analyze the data, interpret results and review them,” Gabriela Gonzalez, physicist and spokesperson for LIGO, told Tech Insider in an email.
Some have speculated that the rumor might be the result of a drill — a false positive signal stuck into the LIGO data as a kind of training exercise for the scientists analyzing it.
Whoever Krauss’ source is says that’s not the case though:
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
Others have taken to Twitter to express their frustration that the rumor exists at all. As Jennifer Ouellette reported in Gizmodo, Loyola University physicist Robert McNees tweeted that he doubts the rumor came from scientists at LIGO:
The rumor probably wasn’t started by LIGO folks. Rumors are the last thing they want! Their only concern is carefully analyzing any data.
— Robert McNees (@mcnees) January 11, 2016
So take this (and other such rumors) with an enormous grain of salt. If it doesn’t pan out, well, that’s just how science works sometimes.
— Robert McNees (@mcnees) January 11, 2016
The discovery of gravity waves would further confirm the theory of inflation — the idea that in the first few moments the universe existed, it underwent a rapid and mind-bogglingly huge expansion. That kind of rapid expansion would almost certainly leave behind ripples through spacetime.
But the most important part is that inflation is an idea that falls under quantum physics (the laws that govern tiny subatomic particles), while gravity waves are part of classical physics (the laws that govern larger objects). The discovery of gravity waves could establish a link between quantum physics and classical physics and get us one step closer to a grand “theory of everything” in physics.
Tech Insider has reached out to Krauss and other scientists at LIGO and we’ll update this post if we hear back.
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