UK Astrophysicists Miss Out on Winning $35, 748 “Gravitational Waves” Bet by Five Years

Posted on: February 21, 2016, 10:00h. 

Last updated on: February 19, 2016, 04:39h.

Most of us wouldn’t put UK astrophysicists and bookmakers in the same sentence. But that’s just because we lack imagination, apparently. Because two British scientists recently proved their bets were on the money, if a few years too soon.

Astrophysicists lose gravitational waves bet
Gravitational waves, ripples in the space-time continuum that support Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, were discovered this week, five years too late for a nice payoff for two British astrophysicists. (Image:  dailygalaxy.com)

As we all know, you have to be pretty smart to beat the bookies these days. Whether its sports betting or horseracing, only a tiny percentage of bettors can turn a profit over time, let alone make a decent living.

Those who do find success as bettors use complex computer simulations and mathematical modeling to help them determine where bookmakers might have got a price just slightly wrong, and even then the margins are likely to be very fine, indeed.

Sometimes finding such sweet spots can feel like you’re scouring the universe for ripples in the space-time continuum.

Which brings us to our heroes.

What if the bet happened to be on a subject the bookies, for once, were pretty clueless about, and on which you happened to be among the world’s leading experts, such as, let’s say, scouring the universe for ripples in the space-time continuum, for example?

Betting the Universe

This was the situation the two British astrophysicists, Professors Sheila Rowan and Jim Hough, found themselves in back in 2004 when their exhaustive scientific research revealed that bookmaker Ladbrokes was offering 100/1 against the discovery of the aforementioned ripples by the year 2010.

The ripples in question are the gravitational waves first predicted by Einstein 100 years ago, the discovery of which would support his Theory of General Relativity. That theory provided a unified description of gravity as a geometric property of space-time, and in particular of its curvature which was (so the theory goes) directly related to the energy and momentum of whatever matter and radiation are present.

No wonder the bookies were confused. So are we. What?

The astrophysicists, much smarter than the average Joe, quickly realized that the odds on the offer were probably a bit long, particularly because they were at the vanguard of Project Ligo. This was an international effort specifically designed to detect Einstein’s waves by erecting two huge lasers in the states of Louisiana and Washington, which would monitor deep space for the elusive waves for the ensuing few decades.

Bookie Always Wins

The chances of detecting gravitational waves before 2010 were considered “possible but not probable,” in 2004, but still way better than 100-1, said the astrophysicists.

Or, to put in British scientific terms, it was “worth a punt,” according to Professor Rowan.

The scientists quickly logged on to Ladbrokes and placed £25 ($36) on the proposition for a sweet return of £25,000 ($35,748) if they were right.

The odds were immediately slashed, as the entire global astrophysics community followed suit. But unfortunately, they were five years too early, which just goes to show that even when the bookies get the price wrong, they somehow end up winning anyway.

Yes, as you may or may not be aware, gravitational waves were detected for the first time in human history last week. Project Ligo picked up minuscule ripples that had travelled across the cosmos at the speed of light: the product of the merger of two very large black holes around 1.3 billion years ago.

Kind of makes you think, doesn’t it? Makes us think we should have paid more attention in physics class.

Shane Warne Solves Science

But forget all that, because once proud brand ambassador for 888.com and former “best cricketer in the world” Shane Warne has gone one better, disproving the theory of evolution and verifying the existence of aliens in one moment of unspeakable clarity.

“If we’ve evolved from monkeys, then why haven’t those ones evolved?” demanded Warne on an Australian reality TV show this week. “Because, I’m saying, aliens,” he concluded emphatically. “We started from aliens.”

It’s brilliant and it’s mind-boggling, and we think he may have just whisked the Nobel Prize from under the noses of the Project Ligo lot.

In fact, we’re willing to bet on it.