Unlocking Secrets of Neutron-Star Collision

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The discovery, published Monday in the journal Physical Review Letters, was made possible by the massive, laser-based gravitational wave detectors first envisioned by MIT physicist Rainer Weiss half a century ago and by an worldwide network of partner observatories that responded by quickly aiming telescopes and scanning the night sky in search of the light and other electromagnetic radiation that shot across space from the same collision that emitted the gravitational waves.

If we move on to the observatories now, this announcement comes barely days after the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the detection of gravitational waves at LIGO and Virgo.

It's humbling to realize that the material in your wedding ring or catalytic converter came to Earth from stellar collisions eons ago spreading heavy elements across the universe.

Theorists have suggested that the merger of neutron stars leads to kilonovae that produce a substantial fraction of the universe's elements heavier than iron, including gold and platinum.

Less than a month after three USA professors were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the 2105 discovery of gravitational waves, a team of Australian astrophysicists, including Swinburne researchers, have announced a new worldwide discovery.

The Virgo collaboration consists of more than 280 physicists and engineers belonging to 20 different European research groups: six from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France; eight from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy; two in the Netherlands with Nikhef; the MTA Wigner RCP in Hungary; the POLGRAW group in Poland; Spain with the University of Valencia; and the European Gravitational Observatory, EGO, the laboratory hosting the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy, funded by CNRS, INFN, and Nikhef.

"The story that now is unfolding is more complete than for any previous event in astronomical history".

"This event is the first unambiguous detection of a merger of two neutron stars", said Dale Frail of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory (NRAO). So we had to act fast.

The collision was detected 11 hours after it happened. This is how it sounded to the LIGO and VIRGO observatories.

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So far, the scientists said, the evidence provided by the radio observations indicates that the explosion either produced a jet of particles moving at almost the speed of light that we are seeing at an angle widely separated from the jet's axis, or that there is a "cocoon" of material expanding more slowly from the explosion.

On August 17, detectors witnessed both phenomena, 1.7 seconds apart, coming from the same spot in the constellation of Hydra.

When Swift turned to the galaxy shortly after Fermi's gamma-ray burst detection, it found a bright and quickly fading ultraviolet (UV) source. "It popped up within the first night of observing", said Smartt.

OzGrav Chief Investigator, Professor Ju Li from the University of Western Australia says: "It is extraordinary that with one faint sound, the faintest sound ever detected, we have created one giant leap in our understanding of the universe".

"It is hard to exaggerate the importance of this discovery", says Prof. "There's a supernova every second in the whole universe".

So far, we have studied the universe through electromagnetic waves and neutrinos... is that too technical?

"This kind of object has been termed a "kilonova", and this is the first discovery of one". The colour spectrum from the optical light observations, for example, revealed a direct fingerprint that the two stars left behind an enormous cloud of elements like gold, platinum, and uranium, whose origins were previously unconfirmed, Harvard astronomer Edo Berger told Gizmodo. However, the biggest question scientists have is when can we see another collision like this? It was also predicted this merge would spew out radioactive material, part of an explosive event known as a kilonova. As noted above, this let the astronomers examine the area closely with ground-based and other orbiting telescopes. Ehud Nakar of TAU's Raymond and Beverly Sackler School of Physics and Astronomy, who together with his graduate student Ore Gottlieb led the theoretical analysis for the new studies on the discovery appearing today in Science and Nature.

This marks the first time that a cosmic event has been viewed in both gravitational waves and light.

In a far away galaxy - around 40 million parsecs (130 million light years) to be more precise - LIGO and Virgo have detected signals from the merger of two objects, that although are small in size (I.e in radius), they more than make up for it in mass; neutron stars.