Scientists observe two Neutron stars collide ‘unlocking the mysteries of space and time’.
In a historic discovery, astronomers have observed a neutron star merger, marking the beginning of a new era in Astronomy.
The massive explosion rocked the fabric of our universe, distorting spacetime. The event also marks a new chapter in astronomy, as well as being the fifth time that gravitational waves have been spotted on Earth.
Astronomers have come across what can easily be defined as a gold mine on a cosmic scale, in a galaxy far, far away, where a group of international astronomers witnessed the titanic collision between two super-dense neutron stars.
On August 17, 2017, the LIGO and VIRGO missions spotted neutron stars merging for the first time ever, alerting observatories around the globe. Shortly after, astronomers around the globe located the event and scientists began studying it.
Referred to as GW170817, the cosmic collision originated in a galaxy called NGC 4993, located a staggering 130 million light-years away.
It was a massive, powerful collision.
In fact, it was the strongest observed gravitational signal ever captured by astronomers, lasting over 100 seconds, and emitting a gamma-ray burst, which offers the first evidence that GRBs are produced by neutron star collisions.
Dr. Samantha Oates, also from the University of Warwick, said: “This discovery has answered three questions that astronomers have been puzzling for decades: what happens when neutron stars merge? What causes the short duration gamma-ray bursts? Where are the heavy elements, like gold, made?
“In the space of about a week all three of these mysteries were solved.”
It was a massive explosion that shook the universe, and scientists did not just ‘hear’ the powerful blast by seeing ripples in space-time.
Astronomers also observed the light and radiation flung out of the exlosion—known as a kilnova:
After the explosion, gravitational waves expanded across the universe at the speed of light.
“We saw a totally new phenomenon that has never before been seen by humans,” said Andy Howell of the University of California.
“It’s an amazing thing that may not be duplicated in our lifetimes. We felt the universe shaking from two neutron stars merging together, and that told us where to go and point our telescopes.”
The two colliding neutron stars measured only around 12 miles in diameter with the explosion producing elements like Gold, and uranium.
“Now we have the detection of not just the merger but the in-spiral motion of two neutron stars,” Dr. Vicky Kalogera, the most senior astrophysicist in the LIGO Scientific Collaboration from Northwestern University, told IFLScience.
“The signal we heard on August 17th is the strongest gravitational waves signal we have ever received and it is the longest. We have more than a hundred seconds. We detect the in-spiral motion very clearly until they merge. And this allowed us to measure the masses quite well.”