These ripples, called gravitational waves, happen when a massive celestial object suddenly moves, like when a star explodes, or when two massive objects collide, like the merging of two black holes.
These cataclysmic disturbances create ripples through space and time — the same way a rain drop can make ripples when it falls on the surface of a lake.
The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) has been searching for these gravitational waves since 2002 with no luck. But a more powerful, advanced LIGO — about three times more sensitive than the original detector — started operating in September 2015.
And now a rumor is circulating that physicists at the new and improved LIGO have finally detected the elusive waves. If it's true, it will be one of the most important discoveries in physics in the last century.
The rumor first cropped up just a few weeks after the advanced LIGO started operating. Cosmologist Lawrence Krauss tweeted that LIGO may have found the elusive waves at last:
Rumor of a gravitational wave detection at LIGO detector. Amazing if true. Will post details if it survives.— Lawrence M. Krauss (@LKrauss1) September 25, 2015
My earlier rumor about LIGO has been confirmed by independent sources. Stay tuned! Gravitational waves may have been discovered!! Exciting.— Lawrence M. Krauss (@LKrauss1) January 11, 2016
Re LIGO. Caveat earlier mentioned: they have engineering runs with blind signals inserted that mimic discoveries. Am told this isn't one.— Lawrence M. Krauss (@LKrauss1) January 11, 2016
The rumor probably wasn't started by LIGO folks. Rumors are the last thing they want! Their only concern is carefully analyzing any data.— Robert McNees (@mcnees) January 11, 2016
So take this (and other such rumors) with an enormous grain of salt. If it doesn't pan out, well, that's just how science works sometimes.— Robert McNees (@mcnees) January 11, 2016