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New resultsYes, I can haz gravitational waves!

It hasn't even passed two weeks since I published a post about the Nobel Prize in physics 2017, where I expressed some doubts about gravitational waves. That doubt—I'm happy to say—is a memory.

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Some days in the life of a master student are more luxurious than others. Today I had sparkling wine that the institution was serving anyone attending the local screening of the—much anticipated—LIGO/VIRGO press conference.

There were rumours about a gravitational wave detection of merging neutron stars. Which sounds very exciting! Such an observation would open up the possibility to cross-reference a gravitational wave observation with optical (or rather electro­magnetic) observations. Basically blowing any kind of doubt you might have—that observations at LIGO really are reflecting something real about the universe—out of the sky.

All previous observations of gravitational waves have been linked to merging black holes, and—just like the name suggests—black holes are very hard to observe from the light that they emit. But neutron stars would be a different story, they would light up like a beacon in a merger.

You might ask if we haven't already seen such beacons. Sadly, it's almost impossible to point your Hubble telescope (etc.) at the right patch of the sky at the right moment.


The press conference begins... And it is everything anyone might wish for! Yes, they have observed gravitational waves from merging neutron stars. Yes, they have observed emitted electro­magnetic radiation (across the spectrum) that coincide with the gravitational observation in both space and time. In other words: astronomers found an electro­magnetic signal, with the expected characteristics, in the region where they pointed their telescopes, and it was on time.

So I can publicly abandon my doubts. I now know that humans do observe gravitational waves.

Watch the press conference