A powerful new telescope detects dead suns colliding

Collisions of neutron stars are key to our understanding of the Universe.


Astronomers using Gravitational Wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) have detected the collision of dead suns known as neutron stars. This collision is believed to have generated heavy metals that formed stars and planets like our own billions of years ago.

Prof Danny Steeghs of Warwick University said, “When a really good detection comes along, it’s all hands on deck to make the most of it. Speed is of the essence. We are looking for something very short-lived – there’s not much time before they fade away.”

The light from the collision was visible for a couple of nights, reported BBC.com. That means several telescopes must race to locate them.

The collision of a dead star creates a flash of light, and a powerful shockwave ripples across the Universe. It makes everything in the Universe wobble. The generated shockwave distorts space. When it is detected on Earth, the new telescope scrambles into action to find the exact location of the flash.

Astrophysics professor Dr. Joe Lyman said, “You would think that these explosions are very energetic, very luminous, it should be easy. But we must search through a hundred million stars for the one object we are interested in. We must do this rapidly because the object will disappear within two days.”

The team collaborates with other astronomers to study the collision in greater detail. After pinpointing the collision, they will turn to larger, more powerful telescopes worldwide to probe the collision in greater detail at different wavelengths.

GOTO’s instrumentation scientist, Dr. Kendall Ackley, said, “The mountain peak brings the astronomers a little bit closer to the stars. They have a new way to peer into the cosmos with the telescope.”

“Now, we’re not hoping for discoveries anymore. Instead, we’re being told where to find them and getting to uncover, piece-by-piece, what lies out there in the Universe.”

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