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The Professors Faulty Gravity - A Rejoinder

Defending a Pioneering 'Big Science' Astronomical Project and Promoting Science in TT Education.
We visit The Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory. LIGO

Submitted to:
Trinidad EXPRESS

This rejoinder is dedicated to our most precious resource, the curious of our young women and men of Trinidad and Tobago.

tobagojo - San Fernando, Trinidad, TT. 7th October 2015.



  Startled by the TT NEWSDAY, 30th September 2015, by-line Gravity waves search is doomed to failure [1] ; I read on in accumulative dismay to the put-down, as expressed by Professor Stephan Gift, Faculty of Engineering, UWI, to one of he worlds most sophisticated and exciting scientific astronomical instruments, Advanced LIGO, as its 2015 US$200 million (TT$1,250m) upgrade is now called; following its reactivation on 18th September.

  As a supporter of youth education, as we try in our panyard, and particularly for any project that inspires the engagement of students to follow the advancement of technology and science, much in the interdisciplinary way that the LIGO project is doing; I was curious to follow the Professors arguments and ready to engage in constructive discussion, based on any reasonable scientific principals, or on any relevant points that the Professor would make, concerning his doubts as to this projects eventual success.

  At a present accumulated coat of US$620 million (TT$3,875m) The Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) is actually two individual physical installations, 3,030 kilometres (1,883 miles) apart. Both comprise two 4 km-long (2.5 mile) arms, perpendicular to each other, with vacuum tubes down which a split LASER beam is fired to ricochet as many as 50 times off mirrors on the super-quiet-suspended 'test masses' at the arms ends, before the recombined beam is measured for telling wave changes. One facility is at the Livingston observatory in Louisiana and the other at the Hanford observatory in Washington state, USA. (There is an option for a further facility to be built in India, but the funding awaits approval.). They comprise the most unusual and scientifically inspirational astronomical telescopes in the world. They also comprise one of the worlds most challenging to implement and are the most sensitive scientific instruments, ever.

  Mainly funded by the US National Science Foundation, LIGO is an initial collaboration by a team of scientists from the US's CAL Tech and MIT, that has grown to over some 200 participants; which now includes teams from Germany, the U.K. and Australia.

  Prior to its September 2015 restart, lead scientist Vern Sandberg of Hanford labs is quoted to having stated "The one thing I personally like about LIGO is it's used every bit of physics I know, from the most arcane solid-state and surface physics to lasers, electronics, quantum mechanics - everything." Seen as a long term 'big-science' project due to its outlandish aims and stringent 'sci-fi' specifications, LIGO was planned as a multi-staged experiment, proving and improving its systems and applied technologies as it went along, and upping its sensitivity in stages to arrive at that 'sci-fi' theoretical threshold of detection, somewhere down the time-line. Conceived on paper in 1992, sod-turned in 1998, outfitting started in 1999, seeing 'first light' in 2001, starting science in 2002 and ran tests and science to 2004 before retooling. Restarted in 2005 and ran tests and science to 2007 for next retooling. Restarted in 2009 and ran tests and science to 2010, the planned date for the Advanced LIGO upgrade. Up to that time, no cosmological phenomenon that could produce gravitational waves had been detected.

  Advanced LIGO 2015 however, is perceived by the scientific community to have now matured to that theoretical threshold of detection, where the 'real' has now just about caught up with the 'sci-fi'. Additionally, suffering the usual 'wood from the trees' - 'signal to noise' syndrome at the sensitivity to which LIGO is to operate; scientists have had to subdue or work around some eight (8) principle 'noise' sources that could contaminate their data. Of note as an amusing aside, but not so for the 'engineering efforts needed to circumvent it', are 'seismic' events like a heavy vehicle hitting pot-holes some kilometres away from the detectors; it's a good thing that there are no LIGO's near San Fernando, where the exposed LOK-JOINT man-hole covers would no doubt promote a 'seismic catastrophe' for the machine.

  To illustrate the degree of sensitivity of the Advanced LIGO instruments, designed to detect an 'in-spiral chirp' imposed by 'gravitational wave' distortion on 'space-time' by a pair of merging 'neutron stars' at an astronomical distance of some 60 Mega Parsecs (nearly 200 million light years away); requires a detection resolution of the change in length of the LASER beam bouncing around in the arms of the instruments, in the order of 1 part in 1022. In hopefully understandable layman's mathematical terms; that's 1 part in 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 ( One part in ten thousand, billion, billion! ) Sorry about that if it's a bit over-the-top, but at least we tried.

  To crown it all off, if only to inspire some geeky TT girls and boys about science projects; to plan, administer, document, test, model, synchronise and control the instruments, sift 'noise', extract signal, and data-log the science, the LIGO's use a collection of 'mouth-watering' super-computers running in the basement.

  Well, with all of that rattling around in my mind, I read on into the Professors article with continued dismay. What continued to be revealed was a thinly veiled unease of jealousy over the cost in expenditure required to support such 'big science' and a depreciating harangue about, if successful, the project initiators could receive a Nobel Prize. To counter that, in my view, 'big science' needs focussed investment in relevant technologies to arrive at new horizons; and if you get a 'Nobel' along the way, which incidentally is a conferred honour near impossible to predict, my goodness, you've done all the hard work to deserve one.

  But what really got my goat, or my catfish, or whatever other TT spin one can put on it; was first, his floored philosophical interpretation of a quote by a LIGO researcher, where he penned:

(The Researcher) "If nature shows a little bit of cooperation, we will make history."

(The Professor) However nature does not follow the desires or dictates of men, but as history has shown is more likely to reveal her secrets to those who observe her with an open mind and go where the evidence leads.

  Oh, come on Professor, that's a null statement. The researcher is already open minded, tracking the evidence and using the best tools at hand to probe the natural 'secrets' of the cosmos; and further, is only pointing out (i.e. he/she alludes to the fact) that scientists have to contend with the problems of 'noise' that the natural environment of the cosmos presents as problems to be overcome, before any successful outcome can even be in sight.

  The Professors next statement is the real 'corker'; or at best a Sargasso seaweed annoyance, or at worst, equivalent to a TT Steelband Panorama's adjudicators' results. It's the Professors faulty gravity; where he states:

(The Professor) I have for the past several years followed the evidence and have concluded that, contrary to scientific orthodoxy, relativity theory is wrong. I contend therefore that these researchers are looking for a phenomenon that simply does not exist and despite their entreaties to nature, I am of the view that LIGO will end its latest search in another disappointing failure.

  I knew beforehand, at the start of this rejoinder, that it would be a long and hard slog. The above statement by the Professor had me wondering what "evidence" he had been "following" for "several years" as, his overall article was running a bit thin on the science but weighed heavy on the harangue; and did not quite match with what I had been "following". I thus concluded that the statement needed just two answers. One to address 'relativity' and the other to address 'failure'. Kindly bear with me, as I attempt to make the best from a sour 'fish broth'.



  I would like to start with 'failure', a tricky little concept, one that can generate the pretty little roundabout of words like: You can never fail if you don't try to succeed.

  So has LIGO 'failed' in its overall 15 years of expensive existence; with its 9 years of intermittent science, with no positive results since from as far back as 2010? Lets jump that roundabout and think. It's still a little too early to tell, but the odds are, that it will more than likely succeed. Why? It has some incredibly good no-nonsense scientific pioneers behind it, and in addition, a team of some of the worlds leading and upcoming scientists and engineers nursing their baby to maturity. Scientists and babies? Oh yes, scientists mind babies, passionately nurture them to maturity, then send them to the stars. Their children have visited all the planets, and some are even walking upon them, and astonishing us with what they have found. Babies are what scientists do best, it's their life's work, and LIGO is no different.

  But leaving all that cosy rhetoric aside, we need briefly touch on a few real characters whom may lead us to appreciate just what LIGO is trying to find. While acknowledging generally the significant contribution of the team of specialist who have helped put LIGO together, we need note two mathematicians whose work is inspirational to the building of this unusual gravitational-wave telescope. The American physicist, known as a relativist, Dr. Kim S. Thorne, a member of the LIGO team; and his side kick, the British theoretical physicist Prof. Stephen Hawkins. While stretching a phrase without need to batting an eye; Thorne and Hawkins may be considered the Bat Man and Robin Hood of gravitational-wave physics. You could even throw in an Iron Man as well, although his 'Sci-Fi' technologies are a little more advanced than we have here today; but it is Iron Man's eccentric personal character and lime-juice whit that can be used as a fair description of the bond of brotherly playfulness that these two, Thorne and Hawkins, professionally share and enjoy together.

  Hawkins, the wizard at Cambridge, sadly biologically infirmed to be the whispering synthesized voice behind the spectacles on the roving wheel-chair, is world famous for his A Brief History of Time, and is master of black-hole physics among much else; and has recently warned us to be very careful with our 'Artificial Intelligence' research. Thorne, not far behind (he'd like that!) with these matters, is noted also for his Black Holes & Time Warps. Thorne is blushingly famous for having helped his friend astrophysicist Prof. Carl Sagan, leader of NASA's Mariner, Viking and Voyager planetary missions, writer of Cosmos and in need of help to get some 'essentially correct science' to transport the heroin, the assertive Eleanor Arroway, in Sagan's 'Sci-Fi' epic Contact, safely through the 26 light-years round-trip from Earth to Vega. Thorn pursued the calculations and evidenced that an Einstein-Rosen/Flamm 'wormhole', though speculatively futuristic, was assuredly the best way to go. So while giving Sagan and Hollywood a solid new toy; he also opened up a new field of enquiry in gravitational physics. Thorne is an inspiring teacher and is one of the lead theoretical architects behind the LIGO project. Seeking "to detect and study astrophysical gravitational waves and use data from them for research in physics and astronomy" is LIGO's prime objective.

  Although already sighted by some of the world great telescopes, the likes of ESO's ALMA, La Silla and VLT; WM Keck and Subaru; and NASA's Spitzer and the famous Hubble Space Telescopes; neutron stars, black-holes and supernovae and their remnants are familiar, though somewhat rare, cosmic entities. LIGO's task is more difficult and long-term; as it is trying to record the dynamics of their formation, or where applicable, their collisions. These dynamic events are even less frequent, and very rarely observed, so LIGO needs to listen long. With astronomers and astrophysicists conceding recently that they have only 'seen' about 10% to 15% of the known material of the cosmos, LIGO's unique properties may bring new light to this area of research. As the missing 'dark matter' is known to have gravitational properties, which is just up LIGO's street, who knows what new entities LIGO may find.

  Apart from NASA's US$10 billion (TT$62.5 billion ≈ TT National Budget 2016) 6.5 meter (21.3ft) diameter, 18 segment, James Webb Space Telescope, scheduled for launch in 2018, the optical technical leading edge companion to the gravitational-wave Advanced LIGO 2015; one would be hard pressed to find a project as thoroughly inspirational as LIGO. LIGO, for the first time, opening the worlds eyes with a new lens into the gravitational-wave spectrum. How much more challenging can you get?

  Through the internet, and as hopefully now promised with even better connectivity, the curious of our citizens of TT are inspired from a wider world. Although we have no NASA or LIGO's here in TT, our young women and men, from the panyards, the Primaries, the Secondaries, the Trinities, the St Mary's, the QRC, the Convents, the ASJA's, the UTT's and the UWI's all have a right to dream. They need inspirations like LIGO, and once inspired, who knows what some of them may bring home to TT.

  We do not need Professors, with little good reason, telling us it's no good to try.

LIGO Gravitational-Wave Telescope_(HiRes) Livingston Facility, USA_5B_Science_1600w_800h
  LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory)
  A view of one of the 4 km-long (2.5 mile) arms of the LIGO Facility, Livingston, Louisiana, USA - from Science.



  Relativity is real and as right as the science community can understand it; but as will be shown, you don't need to take my word for it. It may, in time, be superseded by a better rendering; much as Newton's theories of motion were appended by 'relativity' as a special case. But Newton was not wrong either; his theories, after some 339 years, are still confidently used by science and engineering today, and are considered only to have been updated by Einstein's 'relativity'; and this only for some extreme conditions of motion and mass. For a layman to accept 'relativity' however, needs a little story that embodies the traditions of the 'scientific principal', an idea set by the considered father of 'science', the Italian scholar Galileo Galilei, in 1632; a quality apparently surprisingly lacking in an undisputedly accredited Professor of Engineering.

  Many are perhaps familiar with the story of the young Swiss patent office clerk, who enjoyed contemplating the city's large clock, who in 1905 published a scientific paper on Special Relativity, and whose name was Albert Einstein. The thesis postulated that the speed of light was as fast as anything could go; and relative to an observer placed on an artefact approaching that speed, time would slow, the artefact would shrink in length while simultaneously increasing in mass. The thesis was 'special' because it only dealt with objects at rest, or moving in a straight line. The thesis also championed the idea of space-time; the underlying fabric of the cosmos. Although the thesis was a serious game changer for physics, Einstein remained in public obscurity as these ideas were so esoteric that only a handful of keen mathematicians and physicists understood what he was on about.

  The unfamiliar part of the story continues with Einstein not having much luck with his game changers as, when he presented his theory of General Relativity, first presented in three lectures at the Prussian Academy of Science, in Berlin, around the 25 November 1915; Germany was at war (WWI - 1915 to 1918). The thesis was later published in Berlin in 1916, from which it struggled to impact on a wider world, because of the war. The 'general' in the new theory opened the discussions to now consider all or dynamic matter; it deals with matter in motion, changing direction, accelerating, gravitational fields. The theory brought on the concept that the force of gravity is equivalent to an accelerating mass, and synonymous to curved space-time. Mass induces a curve in space-time that implies a gravitational field. Light, that travels in space-time, will bend with it if space-time is bent! Thus mass will bend light!

  Scientists are a wily bunch at the best of times, and detest political impediments that separate them from new ideas in science; word was getting out that somebody was bending light; this was ridicules off course!. But anyone who can bend light is definitely worth a second thought; and so the word spread.

  We pause briefly in this story to report one of those oddly really surreal moments in scientific history, because it involves a still un-famous Einstein. In 1917, using quantum theory, Einstein published a paper on the behaviour of excited electrons and how they would behave, giving off photons, as they became un-excited. He cited that they could be stimulated to de-excite. Yes, Light Amplification by Stimulated Emission of Radiation, LASER's, are a spin-of from Einstein's theoretical pigeon; one that took 43 years to fly into the light in 1960. Just incidentally, they are a critical LIGO component.

  Continuing in 1917, but this time across the channel to Britain; the British Astronomer Royal, Sir Frank Dyson a member of The Royal Society (RS), was aware of Einstein's new 'relativity' and was pondering by what scientific method of experiment it could be proven. If mass bent light, then the sun, a great mass, should also bend light. The light of what? The stars of course! Dyson then suggested that a solar eclipse, due in 1919, would be the ideal opportunity to test this theory. A solar eclipse obscures the direct glare of the sun, allowing far stars, aligned close to the sun's rim, to now be seen. If the gravity of the sun could bend their light; a picture of the far stars before an eclipse, compared with a picture of the far stars during an eclipse, should show a displacement in the position of the stars. It could all be precisely measured, and calculations made to test the theory. Piece of cake; except there was a war on. Undaunted, Dyson started planning an expedition anyway.

  Luckily, the war appeared ended with the Armistice of 10th November 1918, which had halted the fighting, allowing consideration to the funding of a scientific expedition to be forthcoming. Dyson had determined that the best view for this eclipse would be from Principe Island, off the west coast of Africa; and to have a back-up in case of poor weather, at Sobrol in northern Brazil. In December 1918 reference plates (photographs on glass) were made of the stars in the position of the expected eclipse.

  For the solar eclipse of 29th May 1919, the Cambridge astronomer Arthur Stanley Eddington of the RS would lead the Principe group and the Greenwich Observatory would send C.R. Davidson and team to Sobrol. Both teams had good viewing, and the solar eclipse was successfully photographed from both locations.

  The plates were developed abroad, and Eddington, who had taken reference plates with him, knew the result. He telegraphed to the RS with the news. On the 3rd June 1919 the first scientific confirmation of Einstein's General Relativity came in to Britain and spread like wildfire; as a consequent message from the mathematician Littlewood of the RS to the philosopher mathematician Bertrand Russell records:

"Completely confirmed: Predicted 1".72. Observed 1".75 ± 0.06."

  Before any public announcements, all the data had to come in from the field, and further measurements made to dispel any errors. Also the war was not yet officially over. However, The First World War ended on the 28th June 1919, just over 3 weeks after that fateful news. It was thought that a release of this news could bring some cheer to a battle worn Europe.

  So virtually a year after the Armistice, it is recorded that on the 6th November 1919, at a joint meeting of the Royal Society and The Royal Astronomical Society at Birlington House, London, with The Times correspondent in attendance; the announcement was made in the proportions of 'a Greek drama', as described by the philosopher Alfred Whitehead who attended. To a packed hall awaiting in silence, J.J. Thompson the president of the Royal Society, rose to make the address, pausing to glance up at the portrait of Newton that hung above them. Thompson began "One of the greatest achievements in the history of human thought." Using euphemisms of Empire "It is not the discovery of an outlying Island, but a whole continent of new scientific ideas."

  The Astronomer Royal, Sir Frank Dyson, then rose to outline the results from the Eddington and Davidson teams. In verification of Einstein's theory, he stated that the bending of light by the gravitational effect of the sun did not tally with the theory of Newton, but was in full accord and near exact agreement with Einstein's theory of General Relativity.

  A lively debate then followed, as not everyone was in agreement; but it was clear that some heads of science were thoroughly convinced. Physicist J.J Thompson was noted to add that he was "confident that the Einstein theory must now be reasoned with, and that our conceptions of the universe must be fundamentally altered." At that point, the respected astronomer Sir Oliver Lodge, walked out of the meeting.

  To the press however, bending of light by gravitation, upstaging Newton, was news indeed. The 7th November 1919 headlines of The Times read REVOLUTION IN SCIENCE. The worlds press then got on the bandwagon, and it was from that day on that Einstein became a world celebrity.

  The year following, 1920, may be regarded as the year of 'Einstein hysteria', in which the essence of General Relativity and widely distorted and absurd versions about it, sprang up all over the place to heated debate, socio-didactic slang and satire. Einstein became a household name. By the end of that year, the only people who disagreed with General Relativity were; the unfortunate ignorant, the philosophically challenged, jealous physicists and radical anti-Semitic political opponents.

  We now leave it up to our good Professor of Engineering to himself select to which of the above categories he may belong.

  Jeremy G de Barry - tobagojo
  PRO Hatters Steel Orchestra
  06 October 2015



  Both the Professor and myself were caught with using erroneous terminology; A gravity-wave = water wave; whence a wave in space-time = gravitational-wave, the correct usage.

  The Professor was 75% wrong [3 in 4] ( e.g. The headline 'Gravity waves search is doomed to failure' should have read: 'Gravitational waves search is doomed to failure' ); whereas I managed 25% wrong usage [3 in 12]. - [Return]

  I discovered the mistake in time to fully correct this internet transcript; however, should the article ever be published in any of the listed newspapers (low probability), it will contain the original transcription errors of use.

© 2015: - 20120612 - 20151007
Last Update: 08 October 2015 21:16:00 TT
Processed by: Jeremy G de Barry

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