A Cake Accidently Broke the Biggest Science News in Years

By Noah Kaufman |

Rainer Weiss, co-founder of the LIGO Lab, was presumably not thrilled with the cake tweet. Saul Loeb

For most of us lay people, the entirety of what we can remember about Einstein’s general theory of relativity can be summed up by the equation E=MCand probably this picture of him with his tongue out. But there is considerably more to it. On Thursday, the final piece of Einstein’s theory was confirmed. Scientists from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves in space. Those waves are actual ripples in space-time caused by super-massive objects, like black holes, accelerating through space. And after spending years researching and more than half a billion dollars on their facilities, the scientists had a lot to celebrate. Unfortunately, part of the team was a little overexcited. Erin Lee Ryan, a research associate at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, tweeted this picture of a cake 16 minutes before the official announcement of the discovery.

Now, in Ryan’s defense, she did what so many of us do when there’s free food in the office: take a picture of it and put it on social media. But “Happy Retirement Jerry” just doesn’t have the same gravitas as a major scientific breakthrough. Interestingly this is not the first time Ryan tipped off the world to big science news. She tweeted a similar cake picture in 2013 after the Cassini spacecraft discovered plastic on Saturn’s moon Titan—the first plastic discovered anywhere but Earth. Both times Ryan inadvertently broke an embargo and was the first word in a major news story. She seems to be taking it in stride, though, laughing as she recounted her story to the Washington Post. 

As for the cake, while Ryan did say it “was very tasty,” that’s all she divulged. Come on, Erin, give us something. Chocolate? Funfetti? I thought you scientists were supposed to be good with details. 

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