Gravitational waves caused by colliding neutron stars a 'massive' discovery

Glen Mclaughlin
October 17, 2017

She promised her family she'd stay off of email for a week.

The cosmic event was detected on 17 August and was evidence of space-time rippling resulting from the merging of two of these extremely dense, compact objects.

"GW170817 represents a remarkable opportunity to make major progress in multiple fields of physics and astrophysics, and it whets our appetite for the many expected observations of neutron-star mergers in future campaigns", says Professor M Coleman Miller, who was not involved in the research. By measuring how far the gravitational wave had to travel, astronomers came up with another estimate that was between the earlier two, but it also comes with a large margin of error.

Powerful telescopes at the European Southern Observatory's and other sites in Chile, as well as instruments in the U.S., were trained on the area to see if they could detect new light.

"I canceled everything and ended up working nonstop since that moment", she told Gizmodo.

On top of being a breakthrough in detecting different kinds of gravitational waves, the new papers offer potential answers to a variety of questions. Several dozen gravity waves have been detected, and scientists are now tracing the waves to their point of origin with more accuracy.

"Astronomers got very excited", Smartt added, because the near-simultaneous GW and GRB signals suggested that this was not another black-hole merger, but potentially a neutron-star collision. The team believes both objects were neutron stars, "but as scientists we can't say for certain" that the heavier object wasn't a small black hole. It also posed new ones.

"We find supernovae all the time", Smartt said. The tubes, shaped in the form of an "L", stretch two and a half miles. They split laser light into two beams, send them down the arms into mirrors, and merge them back onto a detector. After a long dance toward each other, two neutron stars - one somewhere around 1.1 solar masses, the other weighing in the neighborhood of 1.6 suns - finally collided, converting some of their combined mass into gravitational waves. They soon realized this flash was something else: the first example of what is now known as a gamma ray burst (GRB), an event lasting anywhere from milliseconds to hours that "emits some of the most intense and violent radiation of any astrophysical object", Dent said.

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This wave would be perfectly explained by a collision 130 million light years away between two neutron stars, dead stars so dense that a spoonful would weigh something like the combined weight of all of the humans on Earth. "This is one such time!"

Professor Laura Cadonati, from Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo), which first observed gravitational waves in 2015, said: "This detection has genuinely opened the doors to a new way of doing astrophysics". This helped the researchers better determine the stars' location in the sky.

"The gravitational wave detectors let us "hear" the movies of black hole collisions but we couldn't see anything". Knowing there's a auto, but not seeing it in your rearview, means it must be in your blind spot. Astronomers worked together to locate the area where the merger occurred.

When the Universe emerged from the "Big Bang", it consisted mainly of hydrogen and helium, the lightest elements on the Periodic Table. The radio waves and x-rays let scientists know that the gamma-ray burst was joined by a high-energy jet of particles.

We've exhausted the electromagnetic spectrum when it comes to examining the universe. What causes the short duration gamma-ray bursts? The findings are "in excellent agreement with the models of binary-neutron-star formation", Berger said. This would be bolstered by the fact that neutrino detectors didn't spot any of their tiny, charge-less particles.

Neutron stars are the corpses of massive stars that have burned out in supernova explosions.

This detection still brought hints. "This is a revolution in astronomy, of having thousands of astronomers focus on one source for weeks and having this collaboration unravel in seconds, in hours, then days, and weeks", said Vicky Kalogera, an astrophysicist at Northwestern University and a LIGO collaborator. "It's possible that there was extra time the system took to collapse".

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