Scientific circles on social media were abuzz this week with the tantalising news that new data may prove Albert Einstein’s century-old prediction about gravitational waves to be true.
Arizona State University physicist and writer Lawrence Krauss, let it slip on Twitter on Monday that a major discovery proving the existence of gravitational waves was on the horizon.
Gravitational waves are similar to the ripples made when a rock is thrown into a pond, except that they occur in space.
Gravitational waves occur when space-time vibrates. The cause of the vibrations is the result of colossal explosions and collisions in space. Examples are when a star explodes in a violent event called a supernova, or when black holes collide with neutron stars (the remains of stars after they die).
These events are so powerful that it causes the fabric of space to vibrate as if a rock had been thrown into a pond. Just like a ripple in a pond, the vibrations spread out across the universe at the speed of light, slowly dissipating until they reach earth.
Physicist Einstein was the first to predict the existence of gravitational waves in 1916.
Researchers at Caltech and Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory LIGO in the United States, started searching for these “waves” in September last year.
But before any official release of data, Krauss claimed on Twitter that he had inside information: “My earlier rumor about LIGO has been confirmed by independent sources. Stay tuned!
Gravitational waves may have been discovered!! Exciting.”
Finding evidence of gravitational waves would be a huge leap in science, according to online science journal Nature.
However, some have tried to calm the excitement. Loyola University physicist Robert McNees had quickly taken to Twitter after hearing the rumours. “When an exciting rumour fizzles it can erode public confidence in science. It might be just a little, but it adds up,” said McNees.
LIGO spokesperson and physicist Gabriela González was mum on the rumours of the possible discovery. “The official response is that we’re analysing the data,” said González.