Gravitational Wave Announcement

Barry Setterfield 12th February, 2016

Response to Hartnett's Article

Further Response to Hartnett: Gravitational Waves and Problems (May, 2016)

The LIGO Petition

Maybe it was just noise? (July 2017)

On Thursday 11th February, a Fox News announcement was made with the following headline: “Scientists find evidence of gravitational waves predicted by Einstein”. The article itself began by saying: “After decades of searching, scientists announced Thursday that they have detected gravitational waves -- essentially ripples in the fabric of space-time -- that had been predicted by Einstein. An international team of astrophysicists said that they detected the waves from the distant crash of two black holes, using a $1.1 billion instrument. The Ligo Collaboration was behind the discovery and it has been accepted for publication in the journal Physical Review Letters.”

Equipment Used
The Physical Review Letters article provides some detailed information. From this, several important points can be deduced. First, the experimental technique required the same wave to go through two different but similar instruments separated by a very significant distance. Each instrument is an L-shaped beam about 2.5 miles long on whose ends mirrors are placed so that any movement is magnified. The arrangement is called an “interferometer” and many are familiar with ordinary optical versions of this instrument. However, in this case, the mirrors act as masses which will move very slightly with any gravitational forces that exist in the vicinity that add to or subtract from the earth’s gravitational field. A laser beam is bounced back and forth between the mirrors in the system. Then, as the distance between the mirrors change in response to the forces acting, the L-shaped arrangement magnifies these movements many times. This arrangement at two locations, Livingston, Louisiana and Hanford, Washington, USA, comprises the LIGO detector. LIGO stands for Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory.

Experimental Precautions
One of the key requirements was that each detector was thoroughly shielded from all local changes which might occur due to ground movement from traffic or earth tremors or changes in pressure due to weather conditions and so on. Waves emitted by the power-grid are also shielded out. A very elaborate system was set up to monitor these changes and off-set them in the measured result.  The distance between the two LIGOs ensures that anything local to one area would not be picked up by the monitoring system in the other area. Furthermore, the system was designed so that anything originating within the earth itself and so picked up at both locations would be able to be screened out by the monitoring system.

In addition to these precautions, the instruments were designed to have a peak response to gravitational phenomena which have relatively low frequency wave-forms, primarily in the 35 Hertz to 350 Hertz range. A Hertz is one cycle or one wave per second. Other phenomena have wave-forms in a different frequency band. While these can be measured and monitored, the LIGO detectors allow everything except gravitational phenomena to be filtered out. Once the waveform had been received by the two stations and analyzed, it was calculated that the chance of this being the result of a false alarm is calculated as being 2 in a million and would be expected to happen less than once in 22,500 years. So a chance event has been essentially eliminated as well.

The Importance of Timing
There is one final point of checking. According to Einstein’s theory of relativity, gravitational phenomena should propagate at the speed of light. There are some who, like the late astronomer Tom Van Flandern, have questioned this. On observational grounds he suggested that gravitational phenomena might be some 1010 times faster than the current speed of light. But if we put his objection aside for the moment, and provisionally accept Einstein’s limiting speed as the speed of light, then unwanted signals can be filtered out.

For example, if it took five minutes for a signal received by one station to be received by the other station, then it is clearly not propagating at the speed of light. That is because it only takes 10 milli-seconds for light to travel that far. (This time would have to be even less if Van Flandern’s objection is upheld.) Any signal of similar form received by both stations more than 10 milliseconds apart must therefore be disregarded, therefore eliminating many potential candidates.

Interestingly, it is this very feature which allows the detectors to determine the direction from which the gravitational signal comes. This is determined by which station picks up the signal first as well as the timing difference between the two signals. Using these criteria, it has been determined in this case that the signal came from the south and progressed to the north at the speed of light. Precise analysis determined that it came from somewhere within an area of 600 square degrees in the southern sky. (Since the whole sky comprises 41,253 square degrees, this is a good start using just two stations. If more stations were involved a more precise location could be obtained. Currently another similar facility is being considered for India to help with location analyses).

The Actual Results
The recorded signal itself was picked up on 14th September, 2015 and was in the form of a series of waves of increasing amplitude and increasing frequency. Over a period of a fifth of a second the wave-form was made up of 9 peaks of increasing amplitude (height) and whose frequency went up from 35 Hz to 250 Hz, following which the wave-form rapidly collapsed to zero. The form was exactly similar from both stations and 10 milliseconds apart. The signal was 24 times stronger than the background noise. That is all the hard data we have to go on.

Was it a Gravitational Signal?
The actual capture of such a signal is definitely a significant first. Although its origin may be different from a gravitational one, gravitation is the prime suspect in this case. This is because long wavelength  (low frequency) waves are predicted for “gravitational” phenomena on a variety of models, quite apart from the Einsteinian approach. This is precisely what was detected in this case, and it is difficult to envisage another viable source for these waves which would affect the shielded LIGO detectors 10 milliseconds apart. Note, however, that the word “gravitational” may have different connotations in different models, as noted later.

Interpretations and Computer Modeling
The data is not in dispute; it happened and it is a first.  It is the interpretation of the data which has gained so much media attention. The interpretation being put forward is that the waves are related to the merger of two black holes.  This interpretation was reached by some very extensive computer modeling, coupled with a lot of esoteric relativistic mathematics. The argument goes something like this: The wave-form detected is typical of two bodies in orbit around each other that are rapidly approaching each other and radiating gravitational energy. The moment of collision is given by the high-frequency peak amplitude as the wave-form ceased after that. This is interpreted as indicating a merger of the two bodies since no more gravitational radiation was emitted thereafter. This seems to be a reasonable inference.

However, computer modeling and relativistic equations suggest that this precise wave-form could be duplicated by the merger of two black-holes after orbiting around each other only if these black holes had masses of 36 and 29 times the mass of the Sun respectively. The final mass of the resulting merged black hole would be 62 times the mass of the Sun with 3 times the mass of the Sun radiated in gravitational waves. This was concluded after nearly 5 months of computer analysis and modeling of the received signal.

An Alternate Explanation
Various gravitational models each provide other answers. However, there is an alternate explanation, which does not require the extensive computer modeling and fancy mathematics. A unified model emerges from Stochastic Electrodynamic (SED) physics and a study of the Zero Point Energy (ZPE) which does provide some potentially useful alternatives.

The ZPE is made up of electromagnetic waves of all wavelengths which fill the vacuum. These waves are continually interacting with each other to form concentrations of energy, which result in briefly manifested virtual particle pairs. These particles pairs are positively and negatively charged, such as electron-positron pairs or proton-antiproton pairs etc. This zoo of charged particles along with the ZPE waves gives the vacuum its electric and magnetic properties as there are, at any given moment, about 1063 virtual particle pairs in any cubic yard of the vacuum.

It is at this point that the different definitions, or understandings, of gravity become important.  Einsteinian relativity considers gravity waves to be “disturbances of space-time.”  SED physics considers the action of the ZPE and its consequent virtual particles to give rise to gravitation.  In the SED approach, gravitational waves are the result of a disturbance of the charged virtual particle pairs and/or the ZPE waves which make up the vacuum.

Looking at the data from the SED point of view, there are two massive bodies orbiting each other. However their sizes do not have to be specific as in the model stated above. Because the particles that comprise these two bodies are charged, this is effectively a large collection of charges, all of which are in motion. Charges in motion emit radiation as electromagnetic waves, and these waves will characteristically be of very long wavelength compared with the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum.

These long electromagnetic waves set up a corresponding wave motion in the charged virtual particles that make up the electromagnetic environment of the vacuum. A similar result is obtained when wave patterns, called Chladni figures, are formed in powder covering a metal plate that is set vibrating with sound waves. In the electromagnetic case, short wavelength radiation is too short to get the virtual particles to form waves. In a similar way, if very large particles were used on the Chladni plates, they would not form the pattern with the high frequency sound waves. It is only the longer electromagnetic waves which cause the virtual particles to move appropriately. When the wave pattern in the virtual particles reaches Earth, it sets up a corresponding low frequency vibration in the equipment.

It is these long, low frequency, waves which were detected by the two LIGO stations.  As the two bodies orbit around each other in tighter and tighter orbits, the frequency (energy) and amplitudes (quantity) of radiation will increase until collision occurs, at which time the process stops. In addition, the motion of such bodies moving ballistically through the medium of the virtual particle pairs creates a series of waves in the sea of virtual particles. This is rather like the bow-wave from a large boat moving in a calm ocean. These waves will propagate through the sea of virtual particles making up the vacuum and produce a wave-like disturbance in the vacuum at huge distances. This approach is basically in agreement with the LIGO data, but explains it another way.

One question remains:  were the two orbiting bodies black holes? That presumption comes directly from computer modeling and an approach confined to Relativity theory. That model requires a lot of “mathematics about mathematics,” and there are some who suspect that all is not well with the process.

The Zero Point Energy approach coupled with plasma physics offers an alternate suggestion. On the ZPE model, all that is needed are two mutually orbiting bodies with extremely strong electric and magnetic fields which influence the virtual particles making up the vacuum. Plasma physics provides just such bodies in the form of plasmoids, made up of ions and electrons, in which intense electric and magnetic fields are concentrated. They have been produced in the laboratory and they exist in space. These intense fields will emit extremely strong radiation as the bodies circle each other. It does not require a strong gravitational field to do this. It is also possible for the two bodies to be orbiting under electric and/or magnetic attraction in addition to gravity as there are equations which describe this combined effect. On this basis, then, it is not necessary to invoke the action of black holes with massive gravitation, but rather plasmoids with intense electric and magnetic fields which would send a signal of similar profile to the one received by the LIGO observatories.

We have been asked for a comment on these gravitational waves and the press surrounding the announcements. The data is not in dispute: it is real, it is significant, and it is a first. What is important for people to understand, however, is that there is not necessarily just one explanation, or interpretation, of these data. Very often, just one interpretation is publicized -- the one that agrees with whatever the current standard theory is. It is good science, however, to look at all the possibilities, and discuss the positive and negative aspects of each of them.

Additional Data

An article supporting the LIGO discovery was reported by collaborators of the Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) group. They pointed out that a weak but significant signal lasting about 1 second was received by their instrumentation 0.4 seconds after the arrival time of the signal from LIGO. Its location in the sky was very close to that of the LIGO event. Indeed, if the two are the same event, the area of sky in which the event occurred is narrowed from 601 square degrees down to 199 square degrees. The signal comprised hard X-rays and was typical of some weak, short gamma-ray bursts. However, to have this sort of signal coming from the merger of two black-holes was considered unusual. The authors actually state in their Abstract: "…this electromagnetic signal from a stellar black hole binary merger is unexpected."

The problem is that black-hole mergers would be expected to give a much stronger signal with a different energy profile than that received by the GBM. If the GBM signal is the same event as the LIGO instrumentation picked up, the indication is that we are probably not dealing with the merger of two black holes. Rather, the energy output indicates the masses involved must be less than those needed for black-holes. As a result, it is legitimate to consider several different scenarios where the merger of large orbiting bodies is involved. Other options for the origin of the GBM signal from distant astronomical objects were considered but eliminated leaving this one the most likely.

However, an additional question related to how far away the object really was. The authors of the article dealing with the GBM event give a provisional distance of 410 Mega Parsecs or about 1,300 million light years from the combined LIGO-GBM data. However, they state that the signal originated near the curve of the earth as seen from the Fermi spacecraft gathering the data. As a result, they felt they could not entirely exclude the possibility that the signal might have originated in the earth's atmosphere or magnetosphere and had nothing to do with a deep space event.

Until some of these issues are resolved, the precise nature of the orbiting bodies suggested by the LIGO data must remain conjectural. If the GBM data are accepted as coming from the same object as the LIGO data, then the concept that it was caused by the merger of two black holes must be rejected in favor of some less massive bodies. The whole situation regarding black holes is discussed in a separate response.

Some Interesting Observations

In searching through the signals that the LIGO instrumentation had received, the team discovered another much weaker signal of similar waveform at an entirely different time. This second event had a far lower probability of being the merger of two objects than the first one which gained the headlines. The manner in which these probabilities are classified is by an index called sigma. The original signal, which has received so much publicity recently, was a 5 sigma event, whereas this second signal was only a 2 sigma event.   There is a great deal of speculation about the two sets of signals, as detailed at Physics World.

That article makes some interesting points.

First, it was pointed out that the merger of stellar mass black holes, such as was said to have occurred in the LIGO event, was a surprise to astronomers. Up till this point, astronomers “thought that such stellar mass [black hole] binaries would either not form at all, or, if they did, they would be too far apart to merge within the age of the universe.”  This type of a merger was thought to be impossible according to current astronomical theory.

Second, spin information about the event is also a source of puzzlement. The statement was made that “The ‘spin parameter’ for the final black hole was found to be just 0.67, which is quite low as high-mass black holes are expected to have a spin near the maximum value of 1.” In other words, the spin parameter is only 2/3 of what would be expected for this type of event. The reason for this discrepancy is being sought from the other LIGO data.

Third, there is an additional concern that was evident from the comments of James Hough of the University of Glascow, Scotland. He pointed out that LIGO’s discovery is also the only direct evidence we have for the existence of any black holes. Astronomers had previously obtained only indirect evidence in the form of X-rays from matter falling into other black holes and the distortion of the orbits of stars at galactic centres that host supermassive black holes.”  Please note from that quote that there is no direct evidence anywhere for a black hole in the universe.  So there is much riding on the simple waveform that LIGO picked up; perhaps even the validity of the concept of black holes itself.

When all the data and theory are put together, it seems that we do have both the LIGO and GBM monitors recording the gravitational merger of two large objects. However, these objects were probably not black holes. Rather these events have a more consistent interpretation on the Plasma-ZPE Model, as stated above.

Maybe it was just noise?

Suspected Gravitational Waves may just be noisy data

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) team announced in February of 2016 that they had discovered gravitational waves that were presumed to have been generated by the merger of two black holes or something similar. They released their data to other scientists and an independent analysis has now been performed. On June 13, 2017, an independent team led by Andrew Jackson at the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen published their findings; they are somewhat troubling. They find that there are strange correlations in the noise in the data from both stations making up the observatory that just should not be there. This noise correlation “could be significant enough to call the entire discovery into question.” Indeed. they state that the effects of the correlations “could range from a minor modification of the extracted wave form to a total rejection of LIGO’s claimed [gravitational wave] discovery…” The full article reprinted from Quanta can be found here:

Inevitably, with such a lot hanging on this discovery, the original authors replied that these correlations made no difference to the results. Jackson pointed out that there was some concern that they did. Quanta expressed the concern this way: “The main claim of Jackson’s team is that there appears to be correlated noise in the detectors at the time of the gravitational-wave signal. This might mean that, at worst, the gravitational-wave signal might not have been a true signal at all, but just louder noise. … Or perhaps there’s a small amount of correlation in the noise that caused the LIGO scientists to misinterpret their gravitational-wave signal.”

The article goes on to discuss a few reactions, with most supporters of the LIGO results appealing to authority and the unlikely possibility that anyone outside the LIGO collaboration was qualified enough to ever find any real error. As the article states: “The technical issues at stake here have to do with the extreme difficulty of the measurements that LIGO attempts to make. Gravitational waves are exceedingly faint, so to catch them LIGO was built with the ability to measure a change in distance just one-ten-thousandth the width of a proton. Lots of little bumps and vibrations can mimic a gravitational-wave signal, so LIGO uses two observatories, 3,000 kilometers apart, which operate synchronously, each double-checking the other’s observations. The noise at each detector should be completely uncorrelated—a jackhammer going off in the town near one detector won’t show up as noise in the other.” The problem is that a correlation did occur in both detectors at the crucial time and this calls the whole exercise into question.

The conclusion is that confirmation of the discovery of gravitational waves from black hole mergers still awaits solid verification.