Physicists Predict Discovery of Gravitational Waves by January 1, 2017

Thursday, 12 February 2015 - 12:09PM
Astrophysics
Physics
Thursday, 12 February 2015 - 12:09PM
Physicists Predict Discovery of Gravitational Waves by January 1, 2017

The BICEP2 data may have been officially debunked, but that doesn't mean that we've given up looking for gravitational waves. On the contrary, the search for the Big Bang theory's "smoking gun" has only intensified in the wake of the BICEP2 stumble, and physicists have now (only slightly facetiously) claimed that they expect to find Einstein's gravitational waves by January 1, 2017.

 

 

According to the Big Bang theory, our early universe went through a period of exponential faster-than-light expansion, or inflation. This cosmic inflation would have produced ripples in spacetime, or gravitational waves. These waves have long been theorized, and there has been some indirect evidence for them, but they are extremely difficult to directly observe, as their displacement is far smaller than the width of an atom. As a result, scientists had been unable to find any direct experimental evidence that they actually exist since they were first predicted in 1916 by none other than Albert Einstein.

 

Then, in March of last year, Harvard University announced that a team of astrophysicists had discovered evidence of gravitational waves, the "smoking gun" for the Big Bang theory. Later, an international team of researchers cast doubt on the BICEP2 conclusions, claiming that the data could have been the result of space dust. Then two weeks ago, the author of a new study confirmed that the results were, in fact, confounded by the presence of space dust.

 

 

Following this announcement, the race to discover this game-changing phenomenon is officially back on. And although the specific date of January 1, 2017 is obviously somewhat tongue-in-cheek, the 900 scientists who work on this project at Ligo (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory) believe that sometime in the next two years, their instruments will finally be sensitive enough to detect these infinitesimal waves.

 

In addition to this project, ESA will launch a spacecraft called LISA-Pathfinder later this year, which is designed to test the concept of low-frequency gravitational wave detection in space. According to ESA, it is necessarily to test technologies that could detect gravitational wave frequencies in space, because there are too many confounding variables on Earth, including our planet's gravitational force.

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