By Laura Geggel, Senior Writer | April 19, 2018 03:23pm ET
Bizarre data glitches have set gravitational-wave scientists — and a conspiracy of ravens — all aflutter.
A series of weird blips in the data, known as short-duration bursts, raised the suspicions of physicists at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) Hanford Observatory, in eastern Washington. Were they communications from alien beings? The work of nefarious data scramblers? Or previously unknown physics?
It turns out it was none of the above.
Rather, the blips came from a conspiracy of thirsty ravens that were pecking at ice on pipes leading into the facility, the researchers announced on April 16 at an American Physical Society meeting in Columbus, Ohio, according to their abstract.
The discovery came about after the physicists decided to increase the sensitivity of the advanced LIGO at the Hanford Observatory, one of two facilities in the United States (the other is in Livingston, Louisiana) that detects gravitational waves.
Gravitational waves have been in the news in recent years. Albert Einstein predicted that these ripples in space-time would form when massive objects in the universe collided. Thanks to data collected by the observatories in Washington and Louisiana, physicists directly detected gravitational waves for the first time in September 2015, and three of them won the Nobel Prize in physics for this discovery in 2017.