Two neutron stars were seen colliding, which is a first for astronomers
The collision created gravitational waves, light and an explosion of heavy elements
The detection of light and gravitational waves ushers in a new era of "multi-messenger astronomy"
For the first time, two neutron stars in a nearby galaxy have been observed engaging in a spiral death dance around one another until they collided. What resulted from that collision is being called an “unprecedented” discovery that is ushering in a new era of astronomy, scientists announced Monday.
“We can now fill in a few more tiles in the jigsaw puzzle that is the story of our universe,” said Laura Cadonati, deputy spokeswoman for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and professor in the school of physics at Georgia Tech.
The collision created the first observed instance of a single source emitting ripples in space-time, known as gravitational waves, as well as light, which was released in the form of a two-second gamma ray burst. The collision also created heavy elements such as gold, platinum and lead, scattering them across the universe in a kilonova – similar to a supernova – after the initial fireball.
It is being hailed as the first known instance of multi-messenger astrophysics: one source in the universe emitting two kinds of waves, gravitational and electromagnetic.
News conferences were held around the world and a multitude of research papers were published Monday to detail the discovery, which was captured by space and Earth-based telescopes on August 17. These papers and conferences include representatives for the thousands of scientists, 70 observatories and gravitational wave detectors LIGO and Virgo that participated in one of the most-observed and -studied astronomical events of our time. One paper includes thousands of authors making up 35% of the global astronomy community.