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Brits bet on gravity wave discovery

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The Great British Public is so sure that scientists will discover gravity waves within the next six years that Ladbrokes, the bookies, has had to slash the odds it is prepared to offer anyone wanting to bet on it.

The betting firm offered odds on five scientific breakthroughs being made by 2010. It reportedly offered 10,000/1 against life being found on Saturn's moon Titan, although the site does not show this as an available bet at the moment, and originally set the odds of discovering gravitational waves at 500/1.

The odds looked too good to the punters, though, and the company has had to shorten the odds to 10-1 as a result, according to Warren Lush, a Ladbrokes spokesman, speaking on the BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"We had to shorten odds to 10/1, but when I was asking experts, physicists about this they were very very divided and 80 per cent of those I spoke to thought it had no chance of being discovered by 2010."

Since that broadcast, the odds have shortened further and are now just 6/1.

Gravitational waves are distortions in space time predicted by Einstein's theory of general relativity. He predicted that two stars in orbit around one another would gradually lose energy from their orbits in the form of gravitational radiation. The orbits would gradually collapse, resulting in shorter and shorter orbital periods.

There is some observational evidence that supports the theory: two astronomers (Taylor and Weisberg) have recorded a shortening of the orbital period of a binary pulsar, but that comes under the heading of 'circumstantial evidence'. For the bookies to pay out, the waves must be conclusively identified.

Lush says that since the odds have been made available, he has been inundated with calls from scientists explaining to him how wrong (and right) his odds are, a reaction we at El Reg are most used to.

Bets will be settled on the basis of reports published in New Scientist magazine, the bookies say. ®

Those odds in full:

  • Understanding the origin of cosmic rays by 2010: 4/1
  • The ATLAS experiment at CERN finding the Higgs Boson by 2010: 6/1
  • The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory (LIGO) detecting gravitational waves by 2010: 6/1
  • Building a fusion power station by 2010: 50/1

Read more about gravity waves here (pdf).

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