In Depth

The scientist who spotted the fateful signal—and let the cat out of the bag

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Science  19 Feb 2016:
Vol. 351, Issue 6275, pp. 797
DOI: 10.1126/science.351.6275.797

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The first scientist to see the long-awaited sign of gravitational waves was a soft-spoken Italian postdoc. Marco Drago, 33, works at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hanover, Germany, overseeing one of four automatic "pipelines" that comb the raw data from LIGO's twin detectors, thousands of kilometers away. On 14 September 2015, the pipeline flagged a possible detection. Drago thought the event had to be a test—it was too sharp and clear to be true, and the recently upgraded detectors weren't even supposed to be taking data yet. Scrambling to figure out what was going on, Drago inadvertently alerted his 1000 fellow researchers that a possible detection was in the bag—something that, under LIGO protocols, none of them was supposed to know. Before they could announce a detection, however, they had to rule out a host of other scenarios—including the possibility that the whole thing was an elaborate prank.