Scientists shocked by huge discovery deep in space

Doris Richards
October 18, 2017

This new field of gravitational wave astronomy could result in more sightings of neutron star collisions and other phenomena.

Knowing the distance also allowed scientists to make a new calculation about how quickly the universe is expanding. Not a bang, but a kind of whizz-bang chirpy pop. Actually, they haven't just been curious about them, they've also been afraid of them, because a powerful enough burst emanating at just the right - or wrong - angle could wipe out life on any planet that happened to be in the way.

Each neutron star was around 19km in diameter and contained a mass half a million times Earth.

Over the last five per cent of the gravitational waves' journey, humans evolved, learnt how to use tools, developed civilisations and started looking to the skies with wonder. "For years, we've heard theorists predict how a kilonova should look". "We suspected first of all that short gamma ray bursts came from the merger of neutron stars but had no other way to telling", explained Imre Bartos from the University of Florida.

While the actual collision took place 130 million years ago, scientists are only seeing it now because of the finite speed of light.

Scientists could tell this wasn't a pair of black holes, since the masses of the two swirling objects were between 1 and 1.6 times the mass of our Sun.

Professor Sheila Rowan, one of the many British scientists involved and director of the University of Glasgow's Institute for Gravitational Research, said: 'Nature has given us the most dazzling gift. This is the first time that a gravitational wave source has been detected in any other way.

And the chirp lasted 100 seconds. With the combined information from photons and gravitational waves, we are pushing new frontiers in astrophysics, cosmology, fundamental physics and nuclear physics too, and we will refine our measurements as more binary neutron star gravitational wave events are found.

After that, there was a short pause when nothing was detected by Ligo. "In this case, the audio soundtrack comes from the chirp of the neutron stars as they are inspiraling, as they are orbiting together and colliding and the video is basically the light we are seeing after the collision".

They also quickly noticed that, within seconds of the time of the gravitational waves, the Fermi spacecraft reported a burst of gamma rays from the same part of the sky. “Neutron star mergers produce a wide variety of light because the objects form a maelstrom of hot debris when they collide. But this is the first time it's been confirmed.

Neutron stars, formed when massive stars explode in supernovas, are so dense that they weigh two or three times the mass of our Sun, even though they're roughly the size of a city on Earth.

Hours later, after the astronomy community had been alerted, telescopes over the world and in space were pointing towards the remaining blob.

These observations also provide a solution to the riddle of the origin of the heavier elements of the Universe such as lead, gold or platinum.

To Fermi, this appeared to be a typical short gamma-ray burst, but it occurred less than one-tenth as far away as any other short burst with a known distance, making it among the faintest known.

He added: "I had never seen anything like it". "It's [probably] the first observation of a black hole being created where there was none before, which is pretty darn cool", Shoemaker says.

The LIGO/Virgo observations of gravitational waves and the detection of their optical counterpart will be discussed at a 10 a.m. EDT press conference on Monday, Oct. 16, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Simultaneously, several dozen papers discussing the observations will be published online by Nature [], Science [] and the Astrophysical Journal Letters []. From now on it is hoped gravitational and electromagnetic observatories will continue to work together to look at the same source, recreating the incredible global effort put into this discovery.

Like ripples from a stone thrown in a pond, the gravitational waves fanned out across the universe at the speed of light.

Berkeley professor of astronomy and physics Eliot Quataert said, 'We were anticipating LIGO finding a neutron star merger in the coming years but to see it so nearby - for astronomers - and so bright in normal light has exceeded all of our wildest expectations.

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