Relativity’s final test?

Here’s an interesting New Scientist article on the efforts of astronomers to detect evidence for gravitational waves by observing “suitable” pulsars – first discovered by Northern Star, Dame Jocelyn Bell Burnell. And there’s an accompanying video via the newscientistvideo channel

From the New Scientist article

So how long will it be before we have a definitive detection of gravitational waves? Hobbs’s prediction of next week is, he admits, on the optimistic side. “But with the data we already have, it should be within five years,” he says. That puts pulsar-timing in a neck-and-neck race with LIGO, which by 2015 will have undergone a crucial upgrade to increase its sensitivity. “It is all very exciting,” says Bell Burnell. “I would say it is about evens at the moment as to whether a pulsar array or LIGO makes the first detection.”

And if there is nothing there? Hobbs thinks this is the more interesting outcome. “If we find gravitational waves, everyone gets very excited and Einstein has another feather in his cap – but that’s it,” he says. If, on the other hand, gravitational waves do not exist, not only will general relativity need some significant revision, but our entire idea of how things came together in the cosmos will need a rethink. “We would have ruled out the whole hierarchical model of galaxy formation,” says Hobbs. “We would be back to square one.”

Either way, the clocks are now ticking.

As I was saying, is everything we know about the Universe wrong?


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