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Monday, February 15, 2016

Detecting ripples in the fabric of space-time

Sou | 10:02 PM Go to the first of 8 comments. Add a comment

You've probably by now heard about how scientists have detected gravitational waves for the first time. The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has reported how, shortly after newly designed and built detectors became operational last September, they detected gravitational waves from the merging of two black holes. The event happened around 1.3 billion years ago and it took that long for the waves to propagate here. The description is very sci-fi, with the opening lines of the press release:

For the first time, scientists have observed ripples in the fabric of spacetime called gravitational waves, arriving at the earth from a cataclysmic event in the distant universe. This confirms a major prediction of Albert Einstein’s 1915 general theory of relativity and opens an unprecedented new window onto the cosmos.

There's more from the press release:
Based on the observed signals, LIGO scientists estimate that the black holes for this event were about 29 and 36 times the mass of the sun, and the event took place 1.3 billion years ago. About 3 times the mass of the sun was converted into gravitational waves in a fraction of a second—with a peak power output about 50 times that of the whole visible universe. By looking at the time of arrival of the signals—the detector in Livingston recorded the event 7 milliseconds before the detector in Hanford—scientists can say that the source was located in the Southern Hemisphere.
According to general relativity, a pair of black holes orbiting around each other lose energy through the emission of gravitational waves, causing them to gradually approach each other over billions of years, and then much more quickly in the final minutes. During the final fraction of a second, the two black holes collide into each other at nearly one-half the speed of light and form a single more massive black hole, converting a portion of the combined black holes’ mass to energy, according to Einstein’s formula E=mc2. This energy is emitted as a final strong burst of gravitational waves. It is these gravitational waves that LIGO has observed. 

LIGO first set up equipment in 1999, but the scientists were unable to detect any gravitational waves. So they redesigned and rebuilt the detection equipment, which became operational last September. The researchers must have been elated when, almost immediately they were able to detect these ripples in the space-time fabric caused by the merging of distant black holes, more than a billion years ago.

Here is a video from Caltech:

Australia's ARC got a mention in the press conference, along with many others who helped in this effort:

The WUWT reaction

Anthony Watts posted an article about this (archived here), without his usual "claim" headline. It would appear that for him at least, this event was "good science". His headline was:
A triumph of science: first detection of the gravitational wave
He didn't write much of anything else, except to say how "Gravitational waves detected 100 years after Einstein’s prediction – video folows [sic]"

The comments to the WUWT article demonstrate very clearly how WUWT is a conspiracy blog, not a science blog of any kind. You already know that it's not a climate science blog - well by his efforts, Anthony has successfully rid himself of almost any sane, normal people.

Phodges was first to comment, and wrote:
February 14, 2016 at 6:28 pm
How many angels can dance on the point of a pin?
Modern physics is sad commentary on the death of Empiricism.

Paul Westhaver complained that he lacks the ability to use Google (or follow the links in the WUWT article) and needs some help:
February 14, 2016 at 6:41 pm
I had to read the article 2 times. There is a whole lot of collaborators getting their names out in THAT article. So and so collaborating with whosit etc etc…blah blah
I want to know HOW they did it.
I want to know the underlying principle of physics and detection methods used. I’ll watch the videos next.
Can anyone write a synopsis? 
Paul Westhaver continued to explain how he is confused by the cocktail of information he was presented with:
February 14, 2016 at 7:44 pm
Exactly. There is a confusing cocktail of fact, speculation and self-aggrandizement. I don’t think they have a clue about the source of the pulse or how far away (how old) it was. It was a single event. Gravity waves from the Higgs field in the CERN collider?
There was a lot more denial by personal incredulity from Paul Westhaver. He who admits that he can't even use Google is questioning some of the world's leading space physicists!

Marcus asks the WUWT world at large:
February 14, 2016 at 7:03 pm
..Why don’t I believe them ??
Heck, I don't know. Probably the same reason that he doesn't "believe" climate science.

Marcus gives a partial answer to his question. He sees all the world through his own highly distorted mental model which consists of one big filter - money. (A lot of deniers are blinkered by money. They worship the golden calf.)
February 14, 2016 at 7:19 pm
..Maybe their grant money was about to be cut can we check, they have the only tools to measure what it is they are measuring !!

higley7 is a black hole denier:
February 14, 2016 at 9:08 pm
It would be a cute observation if only black holes existed. There are many models for black holes and all have problems when faced with real observations. The black hole advocates prefer to ignore these (critical) problems. Einstein even pointed out that black holes could not exist as they would fly apart from radial forces long before reaching neutron star size. Black holes are part of the Big Bang construct that supports black energy, matter, and focus, all false and fantasy.
wickedwenchfan is one of WUWT's illiterati who decides the top space physicists in the world, and the National Science Foundation, Caltech, MIT, the Australian Research Council, the Max Planck Society and more - are all "delusional".
February 14, 2016 at 10:04 pm
This is not a “triumph of science” it is a triumph of delusional groupthink and funding pressure.
After all the blogs on here about error margins being greater than changes in recorded temperature anomalies, one would have thought this site would be a bit more cautious in hailing a measurement of something 1000 times smaller than a proton!!
$1Billion has been the cost of this project. How many people want to see the funding continue? Time to face up to the real innconvenient truth. The peer review system is broken in all areas of science. Not just on the global non warming issue.

lsvalgaard seems to be a WUWT-denier denier. You'd think he'd know by now that Anthony Watts' WUWT is an anti-science conspiracy-theorising blog through and through:
February 14, 2016 at 8:45 pm
waves have NOT yet been detected.
Educated yourself a bit before putting foot in mouth. Waves were indeed detected during the in-spiralling of the black holes, culminating in a crescendo when the holes collided. During the collision the system radiated away more energy than 50 times the radiation of ALL the stars in the observable universe.
P.S. It is so sad to see the many demonstrations of willful scientific illiteracy on display at WUWT. This discovery is up there among the most important ones in a lifetime, opening up a new window on the universe. 

References and further reading - and more videos

B. P. Abbott et al. (LIGO Scientific Collaboration and Virgo Collaboration). Observation of Gravitational Waves from a Binary Black Hole Merger. Physical Review Letters, 2016; 116: 061102 DOI: 10.1103/PhysRevLett.116.061102 (open access)
Gravitational waves, Einstein’s ripples in spacetime, spotted for first time - article by Adrian Cho in Science Mag, Feb. 11, 2016, with a great video

Gravitational waves: breakthrough discovery after a century of expectation - article by Tim Radford at the UK Guardian, with more videos


  1. You know I would not be surprised if some of the climate change deniers turn out to be Electric Universe proponents as well. Denying science reality then substituting their own seem to be the MO of EU proponents.

    1. Thanks Harry. I remember hearing about these people on CBC Radio but I did not know what they were called. I'd say some deniers already are.

  2. I was tickled pink with the news.

    I have this awful little fear though that Dan Brown will pen another of his books* wherein Robert Langdon runs around like a headless chicken and poking around in the entrails of said same dismembered bird looking for arcane symological meaning, in a race against time to stop some arch villain from using gravity waves to reverse the expansion of the universe...

    [*Running title: The Black Holy Grail]

    1. Err wait, don't you mean the contraction of the universe or am I missing the plot?

  3. FWIW, Leif Svalgaard is brutally honest if you can't tell by now. I found this recent statement he made about a paper by Kopp and Lean on TSI

    “Now, the rest of the paper is a somewhat desperate attempt to ‘save’ their old models and everything [grants, students, etc] depending on them.”

    Science takes no prisoners is what he is saying.

    1. He might be brutally honest some of the time. Other times he's just brutal and wrong:

      , which is probably why he sups with Anthony Watts and the rest of Team WUWT.

  4. Paul Westhaver

    I want to know HOW they did it.

    I want to know the underlying principle of physics and detection methods used. I’ll watch the videos next.

    Can anyone write a synopsis?

    If someone wrote is this in a comic novel or in a television comedy show it would be consider to ridiculous to use.

    Apparently Paul does not realize that the article is the synopsis. Still if he wants to know “HOW they did it” I am dozens of proud scientists would be more than happy to do so. Of course, it might take Paul, let's see, 4 years for a BA in Physics, generously only 2 years for the Master's and say another 3 years in the Ph.D program to get to the point he could handle the math and understand the underlying concepts. So someone could schedule him an appointment in roughly 2024-25? Getting in his bid this early it should be no problem to get an interview set up.


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