Monday, August 9, 2010

STORY: Gravity's Message

Hello SLB'ers - I've decided to self-publish my story that was submitted to editor Henry Gee, for the "Futures" column in Nature magazine back in April 2009. It was rejected on April 24, 2009 by Faye Fornasier, editorial assistant. The July 15, 2010 issue of Nature published a similar story "Gravity's Whispers" by Gregory Benford as reported earlier in a previous post. Here is a link to Benford's story.

“Gravity’s Message”
By Daniel Dean Gutierrez
(c) Copyright 2009 Daniel Dean Gutierrez

Dr. Charles Comreau was just finishing up the last session of his gravitational wave astronomy class at Caltech. It was a long, but very enjoyable semester and a number of the grad students held much promise as future postdoc researchers, especially Holly Prentice. Holly was a shining example of a budding theorist within an experimentalist wrapper. Holly came up after class to inquire about the summer internship with the Advanced LIGO project that had now been operating since 2015 and making history along the way.

“Dr. Comreau, I was hoping to hear about the internship by now, because I’m scheduled to head back to New Hampshire next week. Should I stay on the East Coast for the summer or, am I headed to Hanford?” Holly asked with a tone of confidence. Holly wouldn’t have minded to be in Boston to see a few Red Sox games and prowling around MIT, but her heart was with the project and she wanted dearly to make her own history with LIGO.

It had been three years since the first gravitational wave detection that set the scientific world on end, and meant a well deserved Nobel Prize for Dr. Comreau. Dr. Comreau was the founding father of LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory), the device that made history by confirming Einstein’s prediction that massive moving bodies emit waves that ripple through spacetime. LIGO and its partner in Europe, GEO600, were yielding triple coincident detections of gravitational waves coming from inspiral binary black holes with the detection rate of 1 every couple of days.

Now gravitational wave astronomy was a reality, and shaping the careers of up and coming brilliant minds like Holly Prentice.

“Well, I was going to give you this later at the department party,” said Dr. Comreau as he handed her an envelope with her name hand-written on the front. “Congratulations! You’re in and you report to Hanford in two weeks.”

“THANK YOU Dr. Comreau! You won’t regret this. I already have some new ideas about the data analysis phase, and I’ve come up with a modified F-statistic, and …” said Holly as she mentally sprinted into her new internship.

“Whoa now, you can save all that for our friends up at Hanford. Go enjoy yourself for a couple of weeks and have a nice summer.” replied Dr. Comreau.

Holly decided to hit the East coast for a couple of weeks and had a blast with her significantly large brood of little nephews and nieces. Then she flew directly from Logan to Seatac and on to Pasco, Washington which is a stepping stone to Hanford, home of LIGO.

Holly loved Hanford. She’d visited three times before. It was a stark existence in the desolate high Washington desert, where pristine extremes set the perfect stage for hard-core astrophysics research.

She checked into her Spartan dormitory-like room and immediately went to the control room.

“Hi Jason! I’m back and ready for more late night scrabble contests.” Holly said to one of the regular LIGO operators Jason Kupchek who she had befriended during her past visits.

“Holly! I heard you were coming for the summer. We’re going to have such a time. Have a sit. Let me show you what we’ve been doing lately,” said an anxious Jason who had developed an indelible crush on Holly that past November.

For the next three hours, Holly and Jason poured over the recent electronic logs, inspiral range graphs, and noise budgets. Most of the gravitational wave detections in the past year came at a range of 15 Mpc (50 million light years) in the Virgo cluster of galaxies, produced by the coalescence of two black holes.

It was nearly 1am when Holly left the control room and went back to her room. But she was too excited to sleep so she fired up her laptop and continued to examine the data streams. It was about 3am when she saw it, something she never noticed before. Nobody would have noticed this before because it wasn’t part of the normal waveform analysis process. Holly was looking at the data in a very different way.

“Damn, its e!” thought Holly to herself.

She rushed down the hall to Jason’s room and pounded on the door.

“Geez Holly, what couldn’t wait until morning? I was having that same dream I told you about last year, the one with the sun soaked desert isle, and the two scantily clad …”

“Jason! Will you shut up and come take a look at this?” she said as she led him down the hall, pulling him by his sleeve.

Back in Holly’s room, on her laptop computer was an analysis she had been running, the result of a new data mining algorithm she’d been using to detail the LIGO data stream.

“What are we looking at Holly? What’s so damn exciting?” Jason said, weary with his awkward awakening.

“It’s e Jason. If you look at the coalescence part of the waveform, the peaks of the nonlinear vibrations occur at these units of gravitational strain from a base of 10^-21: 2, 7, 1, 8, 2, 8, 1, 8, etc. I checked it every two milliseconds and verified the values to a thousand decimals, and its e!” Holly exclaimed, hardly believing what she was saying.

This meant that the gravitational waves of an astrophysical event millions of light years from Earth were somehow being manipulated. It was impossible for such a strain signature to be generated naturally. But what it implied was even more astonishing.

“Holly, do you know what this means?” Jason said wide-eyed.

“I think so. It means that some one or some thing is manipulating black holes of around 20 solar masses in such a way as to emit an unnatural strain signature in the gravitational waves! But why, to communicate with us?” Holly said, trying to fully appreciate the ramifications. “So someone would recognize the signature as Euler’s constant? Why wouldn’t they just use Pi, wouldn’t that be more universal?”

Jason leaned back in the chair, and said “But what kind of civilization could have done that? Well, at least we won’t have to worry about them, at 50 million light years away, they’re long dead.”


  1. Hey Daniel, I really liked your story. I'm a mechanical engineer by trade but always liked astro stuff. You did a good job. I liked the other story too and I can see it is more polished. But they are [VERY] similar. The probably is that there was some information flow going on somewhere. IMHO...


  2. Cool story! I'm going to have toread more about ligo, sounds fascinating. Thx.


  3. Daniel, I also submitted a story that combined gravity a waves with SETI to Henry Gee and it was published as Gravitational Astronomy 101 in Nature Futures 1 Jan 2009...their issue for inaugurating the international year of astronomy. It is a fictional lecture given for the second international year of astronomy in 2049. I think it is easy to google for it.
    David Blair

  4. I knew nothing of your story when I wrote mine... but great minds etc, same channels etc.
    I await the first grav wave detection!


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