|MPI FOR GRAVITATIONAL PHYSICS/SIMULATING EXTREME SPACETIMES/AIRBORNE HYDRO MAPPING|
Citation: Phys. Today 69, 8, 10 (2016); http://dx.doi.org/10.1063/PT.3.3249
Topics: Astrophysics, Black Holes, General Relativity, Gravitational Waves, Spacetime
On 11 February 2016, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and its sister collaboration, Virgo, announced their earthshaking observation of Albert Einstein’s ripples in spacetime. LIGO had seen the death dance of a pair of massive black holes. As the behemoths circled each other faster and faster, the frequency and amplitude of the spacetime waves they produced grew into a crescendo as the black holes became one. Then the new doubly massive black hole began to ring softer and softer like a quieting bell. The escalating chirp and ringdown is also a metaphor for public information flow about the discovery. It could have unfolded differently.
When scientists make a discovery, they must choose how to disseminate it. A big decision they must make is whether to reveal the results before or after peer review. Reveal before peer review—sometimes even before the paper is written—and the community can use the results right away, but there is an increased risk that problems will be found in a very public way. Reveal after peer review, and the chance of such problems decreases, but there is more time for a competitor to announce first or for rumors to leak. At Physical Review Letters (PRL), where I am an editor, we allow authors to choose when they want to reveal their results. The LIGO collaborators chose to wait.
Just before LIGO’s experimental run began in September 2015, the team held a vote on which journal they would pick if they made a discovery. They picked PRL. Five days after the vote, LIGO’s detectors seemed to hear the universe sing out for the first time.
American Institute of Physics:
Commentary: How gravitational waves went from a whisper to a shout, Robert Garisto