Gravitational Waves

In 2015 scientists made the first direct detection of gravitational waves, almost exactly 100 years after Einstein predicted their existence. I was one of those scientists. These are all of the pieces I have written about the experience, and about the science behind it, and about subsequent observations. (There is a post about every confirmed detection so far.)

A preface for non-regular readers. This was never supposed to be a "popular science explanations" blog. That was not my idea of fun. What was fun was writing, say, a cynical send-up of the perverse ritual of the academic seminar. Or a bit of fiction, in my newly minted genre of "Real Science Fiction". Besides, no-one wanted to hear the details of my obscure research area.

The LIGO observations changed that. I succumbed to the urge to pontificate. I apologise -- some of the gravitational-wave articles are distressingly serious. For anyone who thinks they are not serious enough, or do not go into enough detail (I tried to keep to the highlights, for the busy reader with a life to live), the LIGO-Virgo collaboration provides "science summaries" of all of the detections, and Christopher Berry has tirelessly blogged about every LIGO observation paper since the discovery.

I have organised my gravitational-wave writings into three sections: articles that summarise each of the detections (ordered by announcement date), articles on the science of general relativity and gravitational waves (ordered from most earnest to most mischievous), and, finally, pieces that were written either as entertainment or psychological release, if there is a difference.

Gravitational-wave observations:

Advanced LIGO First Observing Run (O1):
The Event: GW150914
The Boxing Day Event: GW151226

Second Observing Run (O2):
Detection Number 3: GW170104
Enter Virgo: GW170814
Binary Neutron Stars!: GW170817
The Election Day Event: GW170608


How we squeezed out the juicy science from GW150914.

Earnest attempts to explain general relativity and gravitational waves:
An attempt to explain curved spacetime and gravitational waves.
A further attempt to explain what it means that space and time are curved.
How can curved space and time produce a force like gravity?

Not so earnest:
On the futility of simple explanations (with Feynman cameo).
No, you cannot explain general relativity with a rubber sheet.
When Einstein was wrong... and grumpy.


(2015, September 14 + two weeks.) Originally titled "Hey everyone! I am involved in the search for gravitational waves! Just in case it turns out to be relevant!” Less cynically, I wanted to record what it felt like in the years/decades prior to the detection, before they faded from memory.

(February 2016) How to get your name on a paper. The first-detection experience was not all joy and celebration. I published this one week before the detection announcement. There are worse ways to let off steam.

(February 2016) What it feels like to detect gravitational waves. The big announcement made up for it.

(June 2016). Rumours, secrets and other sounds of gravitational waves. On the experience of keeping the first detections secret for five months, and some psychological speculation about arch-leaker Lawrence Krauss. (His next foray into the news cycle produced a pleasant burst of schadenfreude.)

(June 2016.) Book review: Black Hole Blues.

(February 2017). How I saved the world with gravitational waves. The one-year anniversary of the first announcement. This article has exactly zero scientific content.

(June 2017.) The irresistible allure of controversy. A rant on the "Danish paper", which supposedly cast doubt on the first detection. And yes, I do intend to honour my promise to revisit the story a year later.

(October 2017.) Woohoo! I just won the Nobel Prize!

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