COLUMBUS, Ohio —
While the data was amassing, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of something gently rapping, rapping at LIGO’s door.
The source of a mysterious glitch in data from a gravitational wave detector has been unmasked: rap-tap-tapping ravens with a thirst for shaved ice. At the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, in the desert of Hanford, Wash., scientists noticed a signal that didn’t look like gravitational waves, physicist Beverly Berger said on April 16 at a meeting of the American Physical Society.
A microphone sensor that monitors LIGO’s surroundings caught the sounds of pecking birds on tape in July 2017, Berger, of the LIGO Laboratory at Caltech, said. So the crew went out to the end of one of the detector’s 4-kilometer-long arms to check for evidence of the ebony birds at the scene.
Sure enough, frost covering a pipe connected to the cooling system was covered in telltale peck marks from the thirsty birds. One raven, presumably seeking relief from the desert heat, was caught in the act. Altering the setup to prevent ice buildup now keeps the ravens from tapping, evermore.