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It's hard to overstate how anomalous this is:
Sunday night
at both places people are working on the machines
And that's like here
There's some stuff going on
like - You look down here there's just some people whittling away - who knows what they're doing.
Sunday night
- around midnight basically -
at both places both teams without talking to each other are like
"Well, we're tired. Let's go home!"
And so, headed back in they go through the control room like we have back here
and they sit down for probably like, 20-30 minutes
and they readjust the controls on the system to put it back into a mode where it's ready for observation.
And then they go home.
And probably before they even arrived at home that signal came through Louisiana and then Washington.
And what's the chances of that? They could easily have just
worked for another half hour and then we
wouldn't have had anything. It's not just
that it was really anomalous that we
found something in the first hour but
how strong it was it you know we've now
looked at the data for the next several
months from then until January. There's
nothing in the data that loud.
Can you tell me about how you first realized
that LIGO may have detected
gravitational waves.
I think I was traveling on that day so I didn't know
and I came back here I believe on on the
day after and I was wandering around in
the building and people were sort of
whispering and looking over their
shoulders but you didn't want to spill it
so they were saying, "Did you hear, did you
hear?" or, "Have you seen it? What do you
think?" and so I don't even know what
you're talking about. And they said,
"Yeah! It's like there's a - there's an
event it looks really real!"
It's like whatever I don't have time for
this nonsense.
I've got things to do man.
Why were you more interested like this could be it,
right? You've been working what like a
decade to try to find this, two decades?
Two decades.
And you didn't want to say like I'll
have a look at least.
No, um, we had just turned the detectors on barely and I I
was ready to wait for some months or 6
mon- I don't know. I could we were going to take data
for three or four months and I thought
yeah maybe in a month or two something-
something will pop up but it'll be
really tiny and we won't find it and
then we maybe we'll spend another six
months combing through the data and developing
algorithms to eventually find it but you
know no way would it be like *bloop* you turn
it on and and immediately there's a
signal. Which is what people were saying
so I said as it looks
just settle down a little bit you don't
understand how the world works. It's not
like this. You turn on your device and
there's some burps and glitches and it's
a kind of growing pains at the beginning
and I said when you've been around as
long as I have you'll understand how
complicated it is, you young people. So just go
back about your business and nothing to
see here and that's all. And then it just
wouldn't die. Everyone was still looking
at it and I just didn't bother to look
at it for another week
probably because it just seemed like
there's always fake events right?
Right, but how did you eventually convince
yourself that was real?
Um, I downloaded the data and I looked at it and I pressed a
lot of plots and then it when I looked
at it just seemed like you know there's no
there's no bells and whistles to it.
It it's two black holes which aren't
spinning a lot and they merge together
and it it swoops up in frequency and
chirps just the right way and then when it
merges there's no – there's no craziness
it just kind of merges and goes *bwoop* and then it
settles down and the final black hole's
not spinning. It just seemed like
something that you would just get if
you were trying to fake a signal. That
seems like a fine fake signal to make
and the peak frequency of that signal-
there's a lot of astonishing things- the
peak frequency that signal happens to be
at the frequency where our detector is
the most sensitive. What's the chances that nature
would engineer a signal right in our
sweet spot, right?
The easiest thing to calculate is black
hole - black hole mergers because black
holes are simple in the sense that they
don't have a lot of stuff inside of 'em.
It's just a black hole in space and
these two are about the same mass so the
calculation of what the waveform should
look like is really simple so the
easiest thing to find in so many ways
and I have always wanted to find a
signal which is about this heavy because
I thought wouldn't it be great to find a
black hole that was heavier than what
everybody else wanted and the signal
would be really loud and if the universe
made black holes this heavy we could
detect them way back in time to the
beginning of the universe and we'd be
able to see, by looking at how things
these things got distorted as the
universe expanded, we could figure out a
whole thing about how the universe
expanded and this is before so this is like
just in my dreams I thought, "Fantastic!"
and then when I see a signal like that I
said "Ah, that's too good to be true.
How could there be a signal that would
be just like what I wanted?" and as soon
as we turn the thing on that would mean
that these black holes are so numerous
that we're gonna get these signals you
know hundred or a thousand times more
frequently than we estimated and how – you
know, that that's not how the world works, right?
It can't be everything is
great so I just didn't believe it. But then I
went through and with a lot of other
people we examined all of the different
conspiracy theories that we had for how
the signal could have been faked like
someone was mad and tried to do it, someone
hacked in and changed our software,
someone went in and pushed something and
they had someone else on the phone at
the other side who pushed something in
the same way and set up devices but you
see what kind of mess it is here. I if I
had a- if I made a little gadget that made
a little thing like that I could
probably hide it underneath someplace
and cover it with some aluminum foil or
trash. And so, we had people walk around
physically, with a flashlight and look
around everywhere to look for hidden
conspiracy devices that would be
sneakily putting in fake signals because
you know what if what if it got to the
point where if we haven't had signals
for so long and someone who's really
been waiting a long time and whose
career depends on it. Someone who really needs their PhD or something.
Yeah, right. And their career will be made
by something like this so they just get
desperate and unethical and then they
spend a year building a really maniacal
plan to somehow do this and and evade
everybody and eventually we came to the
conclusion that there was only maybe
like five or six people left in our
whole thousand person collaboration who
had enough know-how to do all of these
things and so we all just stared at each
other for a while and said, "Did you do it?"
"Did you do it?" And we couldn't we
couldn't come up with any way that it
could have been done because you need at
least two people to do it. One person
alone wouldn't have been able to arrange it.
And so I would say by two or three weeks
after the detection I was pretty well
convinced that it was real. And how'd that feel?
Eh, it was like a slow boil, nothing dramatic.
You didn't you didn't go crazy and go to Vegas
and- No because it didn't happen all at
once. Yeah, yeah. Just each day I believed a
little more and each day I still had
enough doubt that it was kind of keeping
me settled.
We don't even really know what are the
ultimate limits of how small of a thing
we can measure and if you think about it
when you when you
well I say if you think about it I say
what I meant to say is when I dream
about this in the middle of night the
way I imagined it is when you listen to
really sublime piece of cello music and
if you're sitting close by
you can hear all this stuff which nobody
else can hear on recordings. You hear the
breathing of the player and then you you
hear things like the motion of the
finger on the strings and what's the
roughness of the finger that's plucking
the string and depending on how the
person who holds the the body of the
cello certain of the tones of the cello
get damped by the person's flesh. That's
akin to what we're doing here so we're
slowly removing all of the noise which
has to do with our terrestrial problems
here, our vacuum equipment and the
traffic and electrical storms and so on
and we remove those things and what we found
in September, roughly speaking, it sounds
like a black hole seems like a black
hole and it merged, but all that richness
that we could get you know what's going
on what's with the exact little shape
and what's the scruff on the outside and
is it really like a black hole and
what's going on and is there anything
inside of a black hole and all of those
details which is the real, you know, the
warmth of listening to really great
music on a really good hi-fi.
That's all still ahead of us. That's what
we're working toward here.