Physicist Hints That Gravitational Waves Have Been Detected

Yesterday, award-winning physicist and well-known science figure Lawrence Krauss tweeted that evidence of gravitational waves has finally been detected. He first hinted at the rumor back in September shortly after the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) began collecting data. Now, Krauss is claiming that his earlier statements have been confirmed by “independent sources.”

If the speculation is true, this discovery would have huge implications. The idea of gravitational waves first originated with Einstein’s theory of general relativity over a century ago. To understand how these waves work, imagine the universe as a massive trampoline, as Space.com explains. If you place a bowling ball in the middle the stretchy material will dimple, and if there are smaller balls like marbles around the outside, they will suddenly be drawn towards the center by the weight of the ball. Einstein conjectured that this concept is similar to how the gravitational pull of large bodies functions in space. You can see a demonstration in this video.

The effects of these ripples, called gravitational waves, have so far been too minuscule for us to detect, but researchers like the physicists behind the LIGO at MIT and Caltech are working hard to find them. Many scientists believe it’s just a matter of time before they’re discovered, and several well-regarded physicists have even predicted that this will be the year we finally prove their existence. If gravitational waves have indeed been discovered, they could give us a whole new way to study the universe by probing distant, mysterious objects, including black holes.

But don’t get your hopes up too soon: Any detection that Krauss is referring to could have easily been a false positive. Because the waves are so small, it’s easy to misinterpret them, and the LIGO team has even gone out of their way to send themselves false signals as a way of testing their ability to weed them out. Krauss also tweeted that his source says the results didn’t originate from a blind-injection test, but unless that person is one of the project’s three team members, the claim seems questionable. And while these tweets sound promising, it’s important to note that Krauss isn’t directly involved in any of the research he’s referring to.

According to New Scientist, LIGO’s run is set to wrap up today, and it will take a few months of careful review and analysis before the team is finally ready to release their results. Whether the rumors are true or not, any official celebrating will have to wait until then.

[h/t: The Washington Post]

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Space
Stephen Hawking’s Memorial Will Beam His Words Toward the Nearest Black Hole
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

An upcoming memorial for Stephen Hawking is going to be out of this world. The late physicist’s words, set to music, will be broadcast by satellite toward the nearest black hole during a June 15 service in the UK, the BBC reports.

During his lifetime, Hawking signed up to travel to space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship, but he died before he ever got the chance. (He passed away in March.) Hawking’s daughter Lucy told the BBC that the memorial's musical tribute is a “beautiful and symbolic gesture that creates a link between our father's presence on this planet, his wish to go into space, and his explorations of the universe in his mind.” She described it as "a message of peace and hope, about unity and the need for us to live together in harmony on this planet."

Titled “The Stephen Hawking Tribute,” the music was written by Greek composer Vangelis, who created the scores for Blade Runner and Chariots of Fire. It will play while Hawking’s ashes are interred at Westminster Abbey, near where Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin are buried, according to Cambridge News. After the service, the piece will be beamed into space from the European Space Agency’s Cebreros Station in Spain. The target is a black hole called 1A 0620-00, “which lives in a binary system with a fairly ordinary orange dwarf star,” according to Lucy Hawking.

Hawking wasn't the first person to predict the existence of black holes (Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity accounted for them back in the early 1900s), but he spoke at length about them throughout his career and devised mathematical theorems that gave credence to their existence in the universe.

Actor Benedict Cumberbatch, a friend of the Hawking family who portrayed the late scientist in the BBC film Hawking, will speak at the service. In addition to Hawking's close friends and family, British astronaut Tim Peake and several local students with disabilities have also been invited to attend.

[h/t BBC]

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Is There a Limit to How Many Balls You Can Juggle?
Carl Court, Getty Images
Carl Court, Getty Images

In 2017, a juggler named Alex Barron broke a record when he tossed 14 balls into the air and caught them each once. The feat is fascinating to watch, and it becomes even more impressive once you understand the physics behind it.

As WIRED explains in a new video, juggling any more than 14 balls at once may be physically impossible. Researchers who study the limits of juggling have found that the success of a performance relies on a number of different components. Speed, a.k.a. the juggler's capacity to move their hands in time to catch each ball as it lands, is a big one, but it's not the most important factor.

What really determines how many balls one person can juggle is their accuracy. An accurate juggler knows how to keep their balls from colliding in midair and make them land within arm's reach. If they can't pull that off, their act falls apart in seconds.

Breaking a juggling world record isn't the same as breaking a record for sprinting or shot put. With each new ball that's added to the routine, jugglers need to toss higher and move their hands faster, which means their throws need to be significantly more accurate than what's needed with just one ball fewer. And skill and hours of practice aren't always enough; according to expert jugglers, the current world records were likely made possible by a decent amount of luck.

For a closer look at the physics of juggling, check out the video below.

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