Yesterday (Feb. 11), scientists announced that they detected gravitational waves for the first time, confirming the final part of Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. It was a momentous discovery, and one that could fundamentally change the way we understand the universe.
Massive science news like this is typically disclosed in advance to a select group of media organizations, who are asked to withhold publishing until a specific time. In this case, the news embargo was set to lift at 10:30am Eastern time—the time of the press conference when researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) officially announced the discovery.
But about 15 minutes before that announcement, an unlikely source leaked the news to the public first—a cake. 🍰
Erin Lee Ryan, a researcher at the University of Maryland and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, tweeted a picture of a celebratory cake at 10:14am ET. The cake was promptly retweeted by several people—including other scientists.
Ryan told the Washington Post that she was aware of the 10:30am embargo, but didn’t think that tweeting a picture of a cake constituted a violation. To be fair, the embargo technically only applies to the press. It’s unclear if baked desserts must follow the same rules.
For weeks, rumors had circulated within the science community about the discovery, and other scientists had already gone on social media to basically confirm the news. So even if the cake tweet did break the embargo, it’s not like it revealed anything that people didn’t already assume.
It would have taken something much bigger than a cake to spoil this important discovery. Gravitational waves—predicted by Einstein 100 years ago—are ripples in space-time caused by gigantic celestial objects accelerating through space. The ones detected by LIGO were the result of two black holes colliding 1.3 billion years ago.
Oddly enough, this was not the first time Ryan broke an embargo by tweeting a picture of a cake. In 2013, she cake-tweeted to celebrate the discovery of propylene on Saturn’s moon Titan: