Gravitational waves and rumors
An announcement from LIGO seems to be imminent…
Confirmation or invalidation of a discovery? We will see but it may be time to pause a little and reflect upon the rumors that have plagued the web since last Fall about a potential discovery.
Of course, we are all impatient to know more. Obviously also, some scientists imagine that there is fame to gain by announcing in advance a piece of news to which they have not contributed. Fame indeed: a sure way to become infamous…
Only the LIGO collaboration is entitled to announce anything, and at the time they choose proper. Because the time of physics, the time of carefully checking observations and measurements is not the same time as the one at which rumors spread over the web. And we should all be happy for it.
If some event is observed in a detector, one first has to make sure that this is a real cosmic signal and not an accidental injection of some unwanted signal. This may take months. In parallel, one has to analyse this signal in order to understand which cosmic event could have caused it: a supernova explosion, a merger of two neutron stars or two black holes. One has to make sure that this is not some background noise fluctuation that is unfortunately mimicking a real event. One has to identify as much as possible the parameters that can be measured (masses of neutron stars or black holes, distance of the event, etc.) and also the precision at which they are measured.
It is this long process that may eventually lead to what can be called a discovery (or to the realization that there is no significant result). And this process has to be presented in detail to the scientific community at large, which is the body that, in the end, will decide whether this is a discovery.
We can trust the LIGO collaboration to make an announcement only once they are through with this lengthy, but necessary process. This may now be very soon.
And to be frank, I am convinced that, if these rules were followed in some other sectors of our society, the world would be better off.