October 3, 2016 8:00 pm

Tuesday, Search for Gravitational Waves with Janna Levin and Ranier Weiss


Left to right: StarTalk All-Stars host Janna Levin, co-host Matt Kirshen and LIGO co-founder Ranier Weiss. Credit: Ben Ratner.

Imagine spending nearly half a century trying to prove something that Einstein’s equations predicted back in 1916, only to face ridicule and derision from your fellow astrophysicists?

Well, you don’t have to imagine… you just have to tune in to StarTalk All-Stars tomorrow. First time All-Star Host and cosmologist Janna Levin interviews science guest Rainer “Ray” Weiss, co-founder of LIGO, which recently detected those very gravitational waves Einstein predicted a century ago.

If Janna seems familiar to you, that could be because she’s become a frequent guest on StarTalk. She joined us back in Season 6 for The Science of Interstellar with Christopher Nolan, helping us to unravel the mysteries of black holes, wormholes, and time travel. Later that season, she was our in-studio guest for The Value of Science, with Brian Cox. And, earlier this season, Janna, who literally wrote the book on the discovery of gravitational waves, Black Hole Blues and Other Songs from Outer Space, was one of our science guests for our 2-part StarTalk Live! episode, StarTalk Live! LIGO and the Black Hole Blues (Part 1) and (Part 2), along with LIGO astrophysicist Nergis Mavalala who was there for the momentous discovery.

But long before Nergis joined LIGO, back in the early 1970s Ray was building the prototype for the original gravitational wave detector. You’ll hear all about his struggles, how he joined forces with theoretical physicist Kip Thorne and experimental physicist Ronald Drever to form LIGO, and how Ray nearly caused LIGO to miss the actual discovery on September 14, 2015 – and why, thankfully, he did not.

You’ll also find out about Joe Weber’s earlier, discredited claims that he detected gravitational waves using Weber Bars, how the Vietnam War interrupted the search, and how the decision by the National Science Foundation to not fund the program may actually have sped up the final discovery. Ray, who is Professor of Physics, Emeritus, at MIT, also explains some of the technological challenges with LIGO, including the need to produce accurate measurements at ten-thousandth the width of a proton, and how the two detectors located in Louisiana and Washington State helped determine the speed at which gravitational waves travel.

Plus, Ray and Janna answer fan-submitted Cosmic Queries chosen by another first time All-Star, comic co-host Matt Kirshen, who is also the co-host of the popular science-based comedy podcast, Probably Science.

If you’re at all curious about one of the most significant scientific breakthroughs of our lifetimes, then please join us tomorrow night for Deciphering Gravitational Waves, with Janna Levin – StarTalk All-Stars, at 7pm EDT right here on our website, as well as on iTunes Podcasts, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, Stitcher, and TuneIn.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up!
–Jeffrey Simons