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With rumors flying, scientists are set to make a big announcement on gravitational waves

An illustration of gravitational waves. (LIGO)

The rumors were (probably) (possibly) (maybe) true. Last month, you may recall, we reported that award-winning physicist Lawrence Krauss was stoking Twitter rumors about the detection of gravitational waves. Krauss claimed to have confirmation that the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a collaboration between physicists at MIT and Caltech, was close to making a big announcement.

Now the good folks at LIGO have sent out a media alert for a news conference on Thursday. And, well, scientists don't tend to gather the media at the National Press Club to announce null results.

Gravitational waves, in case you forgot, are ripples in the fabric of space-time. Using theoretical physics, scientists are pretty certain that large objects in space must cause these ripples – much like a bowling ball would warp the shape of a stretchy sheet you rolled it around on. And these ripples should change the movement of other, smaller objects — just imagine the path of a marble rolling on a flat sheet, versus the path of one rolling in the wake of a sheet-bending bowling ball.

[European probe launched in a search for ripples in space-time]

Gravitational waves could theoretically help us study mysterious objects, such as black holes, because they'll give scientists a bright beacon to search for even when objects don't emit actual light. And since they pass through matter without interacting with it, gravitational waves would come to us carrying undistorted information about their origin. But their effects are so tiny — even when massive black hole collisions send them rippling into space at high speeds — that we haven't been able to detect them yet. At least until now (maybe).

What's the rumor mill got to say about it? Last week (before the official announcement of the news conference) Science Magazine reported rumors that LIGO had detected the gravitational waves emitted by two black holes colliding. An email extolling the results ended up on Twitter (you can see it here) and the physicist who penned it, McMaster University's Clifford Burgess, told Science that he hadn't read the paper in question himself but had spoken to scientists who claimed to.

"I've been around a long time, so I've seen rumors come and go," Burgess told Science. "This one seems more credible."

We'll be at the news conference Thursday to keep you updated.

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