Kilgard Explains Why Scientists Are So Excited About Observing Merging Neutron Stars

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Kilgard Explains Why Scientists Are So Excited About Observing Merging Neutron Stars

This new event however was caused by colliding neutron stars, which are burned-out remnants of giant stars so dense that a teaspoon of their material on Earth would weigh a billion tons.

"We have talked about multi-messenger astronomy for a long time", says David Blair, a physicist at the University of Western Australia who is a member of the LIGO collaboration, "Suddenly it's an actual reality".

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier in October.

These observations extraordinary are the subject of a dozen scientific articles that are published Monday morning in the journals Nature, Nature, Astronomy and Astrophysical Journal Letters. As Phys.org reports, the observation also solved several physics riddles - including how much of the universe's gold, platinum, mercury and other heavy elements were formed.

Four times over the past two years, astronomers detected gravitational waves emanating from merging black holes. Black holes are just a mass of spinning objects with no information coming out of them. Now, a single event has given scientists a vital clue. Another difference from black holes is that their radiation isn't trapped by gravity.

Never seen before in astronomy: the merger of two neutron stars has been observed and picked apart for the first time.

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. By detecting the gravitational ripples from colliding neutrons stars, they would give optical astronomers the heads up for where to point their telescopes.

The resultant gravitational waves are ripples in space and time.

Many stars are binary - two stars that orbit each other.

"What was surprising with this one was it was extremely close to us, and so it was an extremely strong signal", says LIGO scientist Jolien Creighton of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. TOROS was among the observatories that automatically sprung into action on August 17.

About two seconds after the latest gravitational wave incident ended, a bright flash of light, in the form of gamma rays, was detected by USA space agency NASA's Fermi space telescope.

And it's these waves which just allowed astronomers to witness the merging of two neutron stars, far away in a galaxy 130 million light-years from Earth. Already, follow-up observations by telescopes around the world have revealed signatures of recently synthesized material, including gold and platinum. We haven't been able to register light from these events with any other instruments.

The spectacular event was powerful enough to generate ripples in the very fabric of the universe, leading to the fifth detection of gravitational waves on Earth - a major discovery in itself. The LIGO detector is not yet at full strength.

Swinburne's Professor Matthew Bailes, Director of OzGrav, says the new discovery has enabled scientists to pinpoint the origin of gravitational waves and to actually see "the colossal event" that accompanied the gravitational waves.

"It was clear as can be", says Blair.

Within hours, thousands of astronomers searched the sky, eventually spotting the explosive leftovers of the neutron star mashup.

From neutron stars to black hole? A little over 100 years ago, Einstein first predicted gravitational waves as something that would happen throughout space-time as a result of dramatic events.

Swinburne hosts the $31.3 million Australian Research Council's Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav) which was established past year to capitalise on the original discovery of gravitational waves. The announcement confirms rumours that have circulated since sharp-eyed observers noticed a large number of telescopes all turned to look in the direction of NGC 4993, and an astronomer or two made indiscreet comments on Twitter.

They were not direct recipients of the award, but they worked with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory that detected the waves. "We have models that show how from a almost homogenous soup of radiation and gas and dark matter our universe formed clumps of galaxies and then stars, and we believe we understand how those stars evolved through nuclear burning and died to give rise to neutron stars and black holes". "People will be tuning in to Youtube to watch it live".

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