How Uncertain Are LIGO’s First Gravitational Wave Detections?

“What’s vital to understand is that no one is claiming LIGO is wrong, but rather that one team is claiming that perhaps LIGO has room for improvement in their analysis. And this is a very real danger that has plagued experimental physicists and astronomical observers for as long as those scientific fields have existed. The issue is not that LIGO’s results are in doubt, but rather that LIGO’s analysis may be imperfect.”

Three times now, the LIGO collaboration has produced very strong evidence that black hole pairs, from across the Universe, inspiraled and merged, producing gravitational waves. The twin LIGO detectors in Hanford, WA and Livingston, LA each detected these signals, and the signals were correlated between both detectors. For the first time ever (and the second, and the third), we had directly detected gravitational waves. But last month, a team of independent scientists from Denmark attempted to reproduce LIGO’s analysis, and noticed something that shouldn’t be there: noise correlations between the two detectors. Noise is supposed to be uncorrelated, and yet the noise correlations peaked at the moment of the inspiral-and-merger event. It doesn’t mean that gravitational waves aren’t real, but it does mean that LIGO, perhaps, has room for improvement.

This has been a very controversial topic over the past few weeks; come learn where we are in this saga of science playing out in real-time!