LIGO: Live Reaction Blog

So the eagerly awaited press conference happened this afternoon. It started in unequivocal fashion.

“We detected gravitational gravitational waves. We did it!”

As rumoured, the signal corresponds to the coalescence of two black holes, of masses 29 and 36 times the mass of the Sun.

The signal arrived in September 2015, very shortly after Advanced LIGO was switched on. There’s synchronicity for you! The LIGO collaboration have done wondrous things getting their sensitivity down to such a level that they can measure such a tiny effect, but there still has to be an event producing a signal to measure. Collisions of two such massive black holes are probably extremely rare so it’s a bit of good fortune that one happened just at the right time. Actually it was during an engineering test!

Here are the key results:




Excellent signal to noise! I’m convinced! Many congratulations to everyone involved in LIGO! This has been a heroic effort that has taken many years of hard slog. They deserve the highest praise, as do the funding agencies who have been prepared to cover the costs of this experiment over such a long time. Physics of this kind is a slow burner, but it delivers spectacularly in the end!

You can find the paper here, although the server seems to be struggling to cope! One part of the rumour was wrong, however, the result is not in Nature, but in Physical Review Letters. There will no doubt be many more!

And right on cue here is the first batch of science papers!

No prizes for guessing where the 2016 Nobel Prize for Physics is heading, but in a collaboration of over 1000 people across the world which few will receive the award?

So, as usual, I had a day filled with lectures, workshops and other meetings so I was thinking I would miss the press conference entirely, but in the end I couldn’t resist interrupting a meeting with the Head of the Department of Mathematics to watch the live stream…

P.S. A quick shout out the UK teams involved in this work, including many old friends in the Gravitational Physics Group at Cardiff University (see BBC News item here) and Jim Hough and Sheila Rowan from Glasgow. If any of them are reading this, enjoy your trip to Stockholm!

32 Responses to “LIGO: Live Reaction Blog”

  1. Adrian Burd Says:

    Most impressive. Those involved deserve congratulations.

  2. It started in unequivocal fashion. “We detected gravitational gravitational waves. We did it!”

    So they detected two? Or gravitational gravitational waves, as opposed to non-gravitational gravitational waves?

  3. Anton Garrett Says:

    Wheeeee! Brilliant work.

    • It is indeed brilliant work, but it is not the discovery per se which is important, because no serious scientist doubted the existence of gravitational waves and they were detected indirectly long ago. Rather, it’s an impressive demonstration of technology, and opens up a new form of astronomy.

  4. What do you mean by “very rare”? I presume that once two black holes collide, the event keeps going for a little while, no?

  5. My guess for the Nobel prizes would be the co-founders of LIGO: Weiss, Thorne (who were at the press conference) and Ronald Drever who was said to be too ill to travel. I think the nominations for this year’s Nobels has already closed at the end of January, I hope someone nominated the LIGO people based on rumours.

    • telescoper Says:

      I hope Kip Thorne gets a share! He’s a great scientist and a lovely guy.

      • “I hope Kip Thorne gets a share! He’s a great scientist and a lovely guy.”

        Quote du jour:

        CALIFORNIA magazine, in an article on “The Man Who Invented Time Travel”, even ran a photograph of me doing physics in the nude on Palomar Mountain. I was mortified—not by the photo, but by the totally outrageous claims that I had invented time machines and time travel.

        —Kip Thorne

    • If, as with the Higgs Boson, they go with the guy who predicted it, they have a problem because 1) he has one already, and 2) he is dead. They will probably find some fudge, but in my view it isn’t warranted, the major experimental confirmation of GR was made by Eddington in 1919. He is also dead.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        But his theory goes marching on…

      • Having one already is not a problem. There are precedents.

      • Yes, you are right, there are equal winners including Marie Curie. The ban on posthumous winners needs to be removed in my view, the case of Rosalind Franklin is one which stands out. Einstein famously was not awarded the prize for either Special or General Relativity, so he really should get at least one more.

      • equal -> dual (sorry)

      • What’s the point of a posthumous prize?

        This event will also probably re-ignite the suggestion of splitting it more than three ways. (By the way, the committee do not strictly adhere to Nobel’s will—for example, the prize can be given for some invention or discovery more than a year old—so this is not the reason for not changing this.) In my view, this would be a bad move, for several reasons:

        1. While it is true that good results come from big collaborations, this does not mean that everyone in the collaboration did work worthy of a Nobel Prize.m Sure, they showed up and did a good job, but that is true of most scientists anywhere else as well.

        2. It would weaken the value of the prize. While most people, including Feynman, didn’t care that he got only a third of a prize, if it is split a thousand ways then obviously it is not as honorable as it once was to be a Nobel laureate. Soon, it will be considered strange not to have a share of a Nobel Prize.

        3. It would disadvantage smaller teams and individual researchers. While aiming for a Nobel Prize shouldn’t be anyone’s motivation for doing science, it would be a bad thing if the committee chose to overlook lone wolves on the grounds that they can’t compete with a team of thousands.

        4. It would lessen the reward for the leaders of these big successful teams. Surely the driving force behind an idea, perhaps even in the face of doubt, needs to be rewarded more than the student who calibrated the detector for his summer project. (Yes, this is essential; so is catering at conferences, but the cook doesn’t deserve a Nobel Prize.)

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        If the ban on posthumous goes then Einstein deserves not just two but several.

  6. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad:

    (Don’t get any wrong ideas based on your own concept of “love god”.)

  7. […] fascinating questions remain unanswered by last week’s detection of gravitational waves produced by a coalescing binary black hole system…. One of these is whether the fact that the similarity of the component masses (29 and 36 times the […]

  8. […] I’d indulge  in a bit of promotional activity and point out that, following on from the recent detection of gravitational waves by the Advanced LIGO Consortium, of which  Cardiff University is a member, there are two […]

  9. […] in the Gravitational Physics Group, some of whose members work in the DII Following on from the first-ever detection of gravitational waves earlier this year the group has ambitious plans to build on its involvement in this discovery. Here’s a nice […]

  10. […] gravitational-wave research came under ‘Particle Astrophysics’ anyway, but given their recent discovery by Advanced LIGO there is a clear case for further investment in future developments, especially because the UK […]

  11. Reblogged this on In the Dark and commented:

    I don’t usually reblog my own posts, but this is just to mark the fact that the first discovery of gravitational waves by Advanced LIGO was announced on this day in 2016.

    Can that really have been 5 years ago?

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