Astronomers Strike Gravitational Gold In Colliding Neutron Stars

A new era of astronomy

Astronomers Strike Gravitational Gold In Colliding Neutron Stars
The collision of two neutron stars, seen in an artist's rendering, created both gravitational waves and gamma rays. Researchers used those signals to locate the event with optical telescopes. Robin Dienel/Carnegie Institution for Science

Out of the blue, scientists captured two neutron stars in the act of colliding. This discovery has solved a long-standing mystery about the origin of the heavy elements such as gold and platinum.

It’s likewise a sensational show of how astronomy is being changed by humankind’s freshly discovered capacity to identify gravitational waves, swells in the texture of room time that is made when gigantic items turn around each other lastly impact.

Peter Saulson of Syracuse University said, “It’s so beautiful. It’s so beautiful it makes me want to cry. It’s the fulfillment of dozens, hundreds, thousands of people’s efforts, but it’s also the fulfillment of an idea suddenly becoming real.”

Albert Einstein already predicted about these ripples about a century ago.

Neutron stars, however, spew out visible cosmic fireworks when they come together. Here, scientists spotted neutron stars that likely spent more than 11 billion years circling each other.

The ripples were seen in space-time while traveling the way to Earth at 8:41 a.m. ET on Aug. 17 with the help of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory.

David Shoemaker of MIT said, “A phone alarm went off in my pocket. The morning was transformed from ordinary bureaucracy to a morning of slightly breathless discovery as we tried to figure out how we could most quickly get the news out to observers to try and make the most of this event.”

Just 2 seconds after the detection of gravitational waves, NASA telescope registered an extremely powerful explosion called a gamma-ray burst. And that was the exciting thing for astronomers.

Shappee, a professor at the University of Hawaii was like, “When I first saw it, my first thought was just, We’re in the perfect position to try to find this.”

“We then started searching for galaxies to look at tills the sun went down in Chile.”

Within just 11 hours after detection of gravitational waves, scientists detected never-before-seen event involving the neutron stars.

Shappee said, “It was probably the most surreal experience of my professional career. It was just completely unexpected, out of the blue.”

Edo Berger, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said, “We started scanning the region of the sky where LIGO told us the gravitational waves came from, and it took us 45 minutes until we found it. It was an incredibly amazing moment because it just stood out there. It was kind of like searching for treasure and then seeing X marks the spot.”

Daniel Kasen, a theoretical astrophysicist said, “Even though this was an event that had never been seen before in human history, what it looked like was deeply familiar because it resembled very closely the predictions we had been making. Before these observations, what happened when two neutron stars merged was basically just a figment of theorists’ imaginations and their computer simulations.”

After watching it tills late night, he observed the colliding stars spewed out a big cloud of debris. That debris is nothing but gold and platinum mixed in with what you’d call just regular radioactive waste. There was also the big radioactive waste cloud that just starts mushrooming out from the merger site.

Here’s a rendering of the neutron-star collision

Scientists estimated, this neutron star collision produced around 200 Earth masses of pure gold, and maybe 500 Earth masses of platinum. And it is a ridiculously huge amount on human scales.

David Reitze, a physicist at Caltech said, “By my count, 70 astronomical telescopes started looking for this event in the area of the sky that we found it. This event, in some sense, is the first event that we’ve seen in gravitational waves and in the light. It’s a new way to look at the universe.”