Scientists are set to make a major announcement about “groundbreaking observations” relating to “an astronomical phenomenon that has never been witnessed before,” the European Southern Observatory said.
The discovery, which is being kept secret until press conferences are held on October 16, relates to gravitational waves. It involves scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Virgo Collaboration, along with teams from 70 different observatories across the globe. Events announcing the finding will be taking place in the U.S., the U.K. and Germany. All will start at 10 a.m. ET and will begin with an overview of the latest findings from LIGO and the other observatories, followed by questions from journalists.
One event, to be held at the ESO’s headquarters in Germany, is to be introduced by Xavier Barcons, director general of the space agency. Another, run by the U.S. National Science Foundation, will take place in Washington, D.C., and the third will be held by the Royal Society in London.
Speakers at the U.S. conference will include David Reitze, executive director at LIGO Laboratory/Caltech, Julie McEnery, Fermi Project Scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, and Jo van den Brand, spokesperson for the Virgo Collaboration. Gravitational waves caused by cataclysmic cosmic events result in ripples that propagate through spacetime—similar to a how stone thrown into a pond would create a ripple effect.
Scientists announced they had detected gravitational waves in February 2016. The discovery marked a major breakthrough in astronomy and physics—Einstein first predicted the existence of gravitational waves 100 years earlier, but scientists did not have instruments sensitive enough to find these tiny ripples in spacetime until the LIGO detectors were up and running.
Three other confirmed detections have been announced since then, with the last resulting from the use of both LIGO and Virgo detectors—and by combining the two instruments, scientists say the number of gravitational waves found should increase significantly in the future. This would allow researchers to probe some of the biggest questions in the universe, including the nature of dark energy and what happened just after the Big Bang.