Was It All Just Noise? Independent Analysis Casts Doubt On LIGO’s Detections
“After an effort of more than 100 years and a collaboration involving over 1,000 scientists, we all celebrated. It was February 11, 2016, and LIGO had just announced their first direct detection of gravitational waves. Analysis of the data attributed the signal to a black hole merger that happened several billion light years away. But what if there wasn’t a signal at all, but rather patterns and correlations in the noise that fooled us into believing we were seeing something that wasn’t real? A group of Danish researchers just submitted a paper arguing that the celebration might have been premature.”
It revolutionized our view of the Universe when the LIGO annoucements – and we’re up to three, now – came out. They indicated the direct detection of gravitational waves from merging black holes, teaching us about a new population of stellar remnants, confirming the existence of gravitational waves, and showcasing yet another victory for Einstein’s General Relativity. But it all rests on one critical assumption: that what LIGO detected was a gravitational wave signal, not just noise in the detector. A critical test of this is whether the noise is truly random between detectors, as one would expect, or whether the noise is somehow correlated between the detectors, which would run contrary to expectations. An independent team from Denmark, outside of the LIGO collaboration, put this idea to the test, and what they found has cast significant doubts on the LIGO results.
There’s a new debate brewing surrounding gravitational waves, and while LIGO isn’t giving the new analysis much credence, the importance of getting it right, publicly, is too great to ignore. Sabine Hossenfelder explains.