LIGO veteran gives talk about gravitational waves

February 19, 2017

Caltech's Stan Whitcomb, who has been involved with nearly every aspect of the development and ultimate success of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), will give a talk about the project's historic detection of gravitational waves on February 19 at the American Associate for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting in Boston.

In September 2015, LIGO made the first direct observation of gravitational waves, ripples in space and time first predicted by Albert Einstein more than 100 years ago. The project's twin detectors—one in Hanford, Washington and the other in Livingston, Louisiana—registered the quivering waves from the titanic merger of two distant black holes.

Whitcomb will discuss the important of the discovery—how it confirmed Einstein's general theory of relativity and opened a new way of viewing the universe for astronomers. "This isn't inaccessible 'rocket science,'" says Whitcomb, who is currently retired but still serves as the chief scientist for LIGO. "With proper explanations, high school kids can understand most of the science behind LIGO."

He'll also talk about the technical challenges of the LIGO detectors, which, in order to detect gravitational waves, had to make measurements on imperceptibly tiny scales, down to subatomic levels where quantum fluctuations of matter influence measurements.

Though the notion of LIGO dates to the 1970s, the endeavor was still taking shape when Whitcomb joined the project in 1980. At Caltech, he helped oversee the design and construction of LIGO's 40-meter prototype, where many of the ideas for the current instruments were tested. Whitcomb also served as the lead scientist for the construction of the initial LIGO detectors, and stayed active on the team until the project's momentous discovery in 2015.

Whitcomb retired on September 15, 2015, which coincidentally turned out to be one day after LIGO's big discovery. He recalls taking a walk with his wife on September 14 after reading the first reports of the detection and explaining to her that his retirement wasn't going to be as quiet as he thought. Part of Whitcomb's retirement work was to co-chair a committee to carefully evaluate the veracity of any signals in the unlikely event that any would be detected.

"I recognized the signal of gravitational waves right away," says Whitcomb. "But it was the committee's job to pick apart the signal and make sure it wasn't anything else but . We spent months trying to throw cold water on the detection, until we were ultimately convinced it was the real thing."

Whitcomb's talk is part of a session entitled "Gravitational Waves: Communicating the Science and Wonder of LIGO," in which Lynn Cominsky from Sonoma State University and Joey Key from University of Washington will talk about LIGO's educational and outreach efforts.

Explore further: LIGO discovery named Science's 2016 Breakthrough of the Year

More information: aaas.confex.com/aaas/2017/webp … gram/Paper18865.html

Related Stories

LIGO discovery named Science's 2016 Breakthrough of the Year

December 23, 2016

The scientific journal, Science, has chosen as its 2016 Breakthrough of the Year the discovery of tiny ripples in spacetime called gravitational waves – a finding that confirmed a century-old prediction by Albert Einstein. ...

LIGO expected to detect more binary black hole mergers

January 9, 2017

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) broke the news almost one year ago about the first-ever direct observation of gravitational waves. Now, LIGO scientists hope that this year could yield even more ...

Video: The hunt is on for gravitational waves

December 21, 2015

Gravitational waves are tiny distortions of space-time caused by some of the most violent cosmic events such as colliding black holes. The observation of these 'ripples of space-time' requires exquisitely sophisticated new ...

Making waves in spacetime

July 22, 2016

Waves on Earth's oceans move in endless rhythm along sandy beaches. Another kind of wave ripples to our planet from distant black holes in the universe.

Recommended for you

Solar eruptions could electrify Martian moons

October 18, 2017

Powerful solar eruptions could electrically charge areas of the Martian moon Phobos to hundreds of volts, presenting a complex electrical environment that could possibly affect sensitive electronics carried by future robotic ...

7 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Mark Thomas
5 / 5 (1) Feb 27, 2017
The detection of gravity waves is such a great story someone should do a movie.
gkam
2.3 / 5 (6) Feb 27, 2017
I would have loved to be there for the talk.
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Mar 02, 2017
I would have loved to be there for the talk.
-And by that I take it you mean "I would have loved to be there to give that talk."

-The REAL george kamburoff is an open book.
RealityCheck
1 / 5 (2) Mar 02, 2017
Hi Forum.

This reminds me, has anyone heard any more about the claimed LIGO 'discovery' of gravitational waves from those two merging black holes over one Billion light years away? Have they done any more checks and modeling to eliminate the possibility that what they 'observed' was an 'artifact'; OR a much closer 'event' comprised of the many interacting/intersecting gravitational fields of massive moving bodies within our own galaxy (black holes/neutron stars) of varying masses and various configurational dynamics (binaries/trinaries)?

If anyone has any recent info re LIGO 'discoveries' and further reviews of same, can they please link it here? Thanks.

PS @ Ghost: You're being needy/creepy internet stalker/troll again. Quit it quick; before you go irretrievably obsessive. If you want gkam's attention that much, just ask him straight out; and if he agrees, maybe then you could 'get a room' somewhere to spare us all the pain of having to see your Ghostly creepiness. OK? :)
TheGhostofOtto1923
5 / 5 (2) Mar 03, 2017
PS @ Ghost: You're being needy/creepy internet stalker/troll again. Quit it quick; before you go irretrievably obsessive. If you want gkam's attention that much, just ask him straight out; and if he agrees, maybe then you could 'get a room' somewhere to spare us all the pain of having to see your Ghostly creepiness. OK? :)
I understand/comprehend/get your need to defend poor lying cheating psychopath george kamburoff. Birds of a feather and all that :)

Odd that your only friends/compadres/mutual buttrubbers here are also loonies eh? I count 1 total :)

Say - how come you dont post under your real name? How ellse are real people/gkam going to have any respect for you hmmmm?
RealityCheck
1 / 5 (2) Mar 03, 2017
Hi Ghost. :)
You're being needy/creepy internet stalker/troll again. Quit it quick; before you go irretrievably obsessive. If you want gkam's attention that much, just ask him straight out; and if he agrees, maybe then you could 'get a room' somewhere to spare us all the pain of having to see your Ghostly creepiness. OK? :)
I understand/comprehend/get your need to defend poor lying cheating psychopath george kamburoff....Odd that your only friends/compadres/mutual buttrubbers here are also loonies eh? I count 1 total :)
I don't defend persons per se, only their right to post on-topic without being stalked/trolled by creepy internet actors such as you have been (stop it).

As for gkam, I don't know him. I apply scientific method principles strictly, eschewing associations or gangs. Bicep2 fiasco highlighted pitfalls of fixating on persons/sources instead of objective science.

how come you dont post under your real name?
Why don't you do likewise, Ghost? :)
Captain Stumpy
5 / 5 (1) Mar 09, 2017
I apply scientific method principles strictly
@blatantly lying fodera headed earthling idiot pseudoscience troll
1- you're lying - i can prove it: http://earthlingclub.com/

2- see my answer to your BS BICEP claims posted here: https://phys.org/...ght.html

3- 6.234 posts from you - zero evidence.
the source material for your claim of 4 fatal flaws is an open access freely available paper that isn't yours
you can't even provide evidence from that paper to substantiate your claims

reported

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.