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If you follow physics, you have likely heard the rumor by now: Physicists working with a pair of gigantic detectors have finally discovered gravitational waves—ripples in space and time set off when, say, two massive neutrons stars spiral into each other—and have only to announce it. It would be a sure-fire Nobel Prize–winning discovery and the rumor sounds plausible. Sensing those waves is exactly what a $500 million project called the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) was built to do. Numerous news outlets have reported the rumor, prompted by Twitter posts by Lawrence Krauss, a theoretical physicist and author at Arizona State University, Tempe.
There's a qualification, however: By his own account, Krauss has spoken to nobody in the 900-member LIGO Scientific Collaboration.
"I never said I've talked to anybody in the collaboration," he tellsScienceInsider. "That's why I used the word rumor. I don't know how to be clearer."
Albert Einstein predicted the existence of gravitational waves not long after he published physicists' prevailing theory of gravity, the general theory of relativity. For decades, experimenters have been striving to detect them. Physicist working with LIGO looked for them from 2002 to 2010, with the initial incarnation of the observatory, which consists of two gargantuan L-shaped optical instruments in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana. (See a video of the device here.) To detect the stretching of space itself, researchers compare the lengths of an interferometer’s two 4-kilometer-long arms to within a billionth the width of an atom./.../