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Space & Astronomy

Neutron star smash signals major breakthrough

By T.K. Randall
October 16, 2017 · Comment icon 33 comments

An artist's impression of two neutron stars colliding. Image Credit: ESO / L. Calcada /M. Kornmesser
For the first time ever, gravitational waves and light have been picked up from the same cosmic event.
The groundbreaking achievement, which was revealed today at the European Southern Observatory's Headquarters in Garching, Germany, signals the beginning of a whole new era of astronomy.

When the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Washington picked up a signal back in August, dozens of telescopes and observatories across the planet turned their gaze towards its source in the constellation Hydra.

This major collaborative effort resulted in both light and gravitational waves being detected from the same event - a cataclysmic collision between two neutron stars 130 million light years away.

"I don't think it's out of the question that this is the most observed astronomical event ever," said LIGO spokesperson David Shoemaker. "It's a thrilling notion, and a little overwhelming."
"We've got somewhere between a quarter and a third of all the world's astronomers working with us."

What this all means is that it is now possible to observe major astronomical events by first picking up the gravitational waves and then using that information to tell conventional telescopes where to look.

Suffice to say, the possibilities for new discoveries are endless.

"Superlatives fail," said LIGO scientist Richard O'Shaughnessy. "This is a transformation in the way that we're going to do astronomy. It's fantastic."

Source: | Comments (33)

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Comment icon #24 Posted by taniwha 7 years ago
Well I don't know the answer to your question except it is probably to do with the conversion of mass into energy. To further my earlier illustration... Let's suppose we sent the world's biggest mining truck to a neutron star to cart 1 teaspoon full of matter from point A to point B say it's a 1km round trip. Heres the truck here.  It is purpose built for the job. ( I recommend you watch ) Ok... how many times would this truck have to journey from point A to point B?  (To deliver the 1 teaspoon payload) Spoiler A staggering 2,222,222.222 times! I hope that gives a whole lot more perspective ... [More]
Comment icon #25 Posted by preacherman76 7 years ago
How? I mean this discovery is kinda cool an all, but I don't see how it will actually benefit anyone other then folks with really big telescopes. They can now pin point explosions so far away it doesn't effect us at all. Or if it did we couldn't do anything about it anyway.
Comment icon #26 Posted by Ozymandias 7 years ago
This is not my area but I think I am correct in saying that a gravity wave is a massless entity. It is actually a consequence of the effect of massive bodies like two neutron stars and only constitutes a perturbation of space-time.
Comment icon #27 Posted by TaintlessMetals 7 years ago
It is based on the assumption that new observations made by LIGO, and others that will be operational soon as well, will lead to a better understanding of gravity in general. Thus far our understanding is rudimentary at best but new developments provided from the data recieved during theses future observations could potentially lead to some seriously remarkable technologies not to mention have the potential to lead to confirming relativity and possibly eventually producing a unifying theory tieing everything together. With this specific observation we actually witnessed the warping of the fabr... [More]
Comment icon #28 Posted by taniwha 7 years ago
So now if we turn our telescopes 180 degrees will we see space warping as the ripples move away? 
Comment icon #29 Posted by Calibeliever 7 years ago
I understand it actually took 11 hours for observatories to locate the source, in part because they had to wait for the sun to set in the Western hemisphere. LIGO has an observation arc of about 120 degrees or 20 times the width of the moon from the ground so they had an idea of where to start but the computers had to do a lot of crunching before they could nail it down*. *source: AMA on Reddit.
Comment icon #30 Posted by Calibeliever 7 years ago
Theoretically, gravitational waves occur constantly they are just far too small for us to ever be able to reasonably detect. It requires a tremendous (understatement) amount of released energy to generate a large enough "wave" for our current instruments to detect. The main contributor to the wave was most likely the acceleration of matter that occurred. The smaller star's matter was estimated to have been accelerated to nearly .3c and the larger to .15c at the moment of collision. 
Comment icon #31 Posted by EBE Hybrid 7 years ago
This seems to imply that Gravitational waves and light travel at the same speed, or am I missing something?
Comment icon #32 Posted by Calibeliever 7 years ago
Yup. Well, pretty darned close as far as they can tell anyway, (it's been experimentally proven to within about 1%). GR states that gravity "propagates" at the speed of light and it's probably right.
Comment icon #33 Posted by bison 7 years ago
When super-massive objects spiral in toward each other at increasing speed, they distort space-time in a cyclical manner, creating gravitational waves. This was predicted by Albert Einstein's general theory of relativity, and has since been confirmed by observation. The distance between objects throughout space, is very slightly changed in a rhythmic manner. Measuring these changes in distance enables the detection of gravitational waves. Please find an article with a more detailed explanation, linked below:

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