Astrophysicists on tenterhooks for gravitational waves confirmation

12 Jan 2016

Astrophysicists are getting rather excited about the potential discovery of gravitational waves, which would prove one of Albert Einstein’s grandest theories.

The existence of gravitational waves has been the topic of much debate for decades now, since it was first suggested by Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, as the result of extreme cosmic events like the collision of two enormous black holes or the birth of a supernova.

While the existence of gravitational waves would be great for ticking off the cosmic discovery checklist, the existence of these waves will also be of an enormous benefit for astronomers looking into the cosmos in ways that hadn’t been possible before.

And now, according to The Guardian, one researcher who is heavily invested in the search for gravitational waves has announced on Twitter that there are rumours flying about of their potential discovery.

The researcher in question, Lawrence M Krauss, referenced a paper that is about to be published by a team that is using what is known as the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), which is capable of detecting evidence of the compressed and stretched spacetime that would be found in gravitational waves.

“We would have a new window on the universe,” Krauss said. “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.”

There must be some sort of catch?

All of this would mean that we would have an entirely new and more accurate way of measuring time across the vastness of space.

It’s by no means a foregone conclusion, however, as Krauss says his sources suggest that the likelihood of it being absolute confirmation of their existence is somewhere around 60pc.

After all, there have been a number of false announcements in the past, most recently when a US research team called BICEP2 claimed it had discovered gravitational waves, only to finally realise it was looking at space dust.

Since Krauss’ excited statements on Twitter, the spokesperson for LIGO, Prof Gabriella Gonzalez, has said of the potential discovery: “The LIGO instruments are still taking data today, and it takes us time to analyse, interpret and review results, so we don’t have any results to share yet.

“We take pride in reviewing our results carefully before submitting them for publication – and for important results, we plan to ask for our papers to be peer reviewed before we announce the results – that takes time too!”

Why look for them when we can make them?

Today’s news coincides with the rather incredible suggestion by Prof André Füzfa of Namur University in Belgium yesterday that, rather than trying to discover and measure gravitational waves, why not try to create them instead?

Publishing his paper in Physical Review, Prof Füzfa proposed a mathematically-sound concept device that could create detectable gravitational fields using superconducting electromagnets like the ones found at the CERN research facility.

If successful, the concept would have a multitude of Earth-based applications that would advance us towards a new age of physics, as well as expanding our communications technology tenfold.

Gravitational waves illustration via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic