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 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]

Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Scientists Discover a Mysterious Void in the Great Pyramid of Giza

The Great Pyramid of Giza, the largest in all of Egypt, was built more than 4500 years ago as the final resting place of the 4th Dynasty pharaoh Khufu (a.k.a. Cheops), who reigned from 2509 to 2483 BCE. Modern Egyptologists have been excavating and studying it for more than a century, but it's still full of mysteries that have yet to be fully solved. The latest discovery, detailed in a new paper in the journal Nature, reveals a hidden void located with the help of particle physics. This is the first time a new inner structure has been located in the pyramid since the 19th century.

The ScanPyramids project, an international endeavor launched in 2015, has been using noninvasive scanning technology like laser imaging to understand Egypt's Old Kingdom pyramids. This discovery was made using muon tomography, a technique that generates 3D images from muons, a by-product of cosmic rays that can pass through stone better than similar technology based on x-rays, like CT scans. (Muon tomography is currently used to scan shipping containers for smuggled goods and image nuclear reactor cores.)

The ScanPyramids team works inside Khufu's Pyramid

The newly discovered void is at least 100 feet long and bears a structural resemblance to the section directly below it: the pyramid's Grand Gallery, a long, 26-foot-high inner area of the pyramid that feels like a "very big cathedral at the center of the monument," as engineer and ScanPyramids co-founder Mehdi Tayoubi said in a press briefing. Its size and shape were confirmed by three different muon tomography techniques.

They aren't sure what it would have been used for yet or why it exists, or even if it's one structure or multiple structures together. It could be a horizontal structure, or it could have an incline. In short, there's a lot more to learn about it.

In the past few years, technology has allowed researchers to access parts of the Great Pyramid never seen before. Several robots sent into the tunnels since the '90s have brought back images of previously unseen areas. Almost immediately after starting to examine the Great Pyramid with thermal imaging in 2015, the researchers discovered that some of the limestone structure was hotter than other parts, indicating internal air currents moving through hidden chambers. In 2016, muon imaging indicated that there was at least one previously unknown void near the north face of Khufu's pyramid, though the researchers couldn't identify where exactly it was or what it looked like. Now, we know its basic structure.

A rendering shows internal chambers within the Great Pyramid and the approximate structure of the newly discovered void.

"These results constitute a breakthrough for the understanding of Khufu's Pyramid and its internal structure," the ScanPyramids team writes in Nature. "While there is currently no information about the role of this void, these findings show how modern particle physics can shed new light on the world's archaeological heritage."

Keystone, Stringer, Getty Images
Einstein's Handwritten Note on Happiness Just Sold for $1.3 Million
Keystone, Stringer, Getty Images
Keystone, Stringer, Getty Images

Albert Einstein was on his way to becoming a household name when he took a trip to Japan in 1922. The scientist had just learned that he would be awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, and word of his accomplishments was spreading beyond his home country of Germany. In light of his rising stardom, he gave an unconventional tip to his bellboy after checking into his Tokyo hotel: He jotted down a note on a piece of paper in place of giving him cash, saying it "will probably be worth more than a regular tip" in the future. Nearly a century later, NBC News reports, the same note has sold at auction for $1.3 million.

The message, which has come to be referred to as “Einstein’s Theory of Happiness,” looks much different from the ideas about time and space the theoretical physicist is known for. It reads: "A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.”

Einstein's "Theory of Happiness" letter.
Menahem Kahana, Getty Images

On Tuesday, October 24, the item went to auction in Jerusalem along with a second note reading "Where there's a will there's a way" that Einstein wrote for the bellboy on the same occasion. The first message was scribbled on official Imperial Hotel paper and the second on a blank sheet of scrap paper. Both were signed and dated 1922.

Following a 25-minute bidding war, Einstein’s theory of happiness was claimed by an anonymous buyer for $1.3 million, making it the highest-priced document ever sold at auction in Israel. The second artifact sold for more than $200,000, according to the auction house. It may have taken a while to pay off, but Einstein's gift turned out to be one of the most generous tips in history. Whether it's going to a relative or descendent of the bellboy is unclear; both seller and buyer are unidentified.   

The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, which Einstein helped found, was bequeathed his literary estate and personal papers upon his death. Earlier this year, letters on God, Israel, and physics brought in $210,000 at an auction in the Israeli capital.

[h/t NBC News]


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