Collision of dead stars unlocks 'new chapter' for astronomy


In some kind of alchemy, the fireball 130 million light years away created huge quantities of the precious metal, along with platinum, uranium and other heavy elements.

The resulting explosion was so powerful that it sent ripples through the fabric of spacetime.

When LIGO and VIRGO picked up the gravitational waves emitted by this binary neutron star pair, just as they began to merge, and then the Fermi and INTEGRAL telescopes picked up the pulse of gamma rays emitted during the merger a couple of seconds later, it provided a fundamental confirmation for one of the basics of our physical understanding of the universe.

It is like "the classic challenge of finding a needle in the haystack with the added challenge that the needle is fading away and the haystack is moving", said Marcelle Soares-Santos, an astrophysicist at Brandeis University. Until now the only gravitational waves detected had come from black holes colliding. And all that stuff - including lighter elements - was thrown out in all different directions and is now speeding across the universe.

They were picked up on Earth by two incredibly sensitive detectors in Washington and Louisiana in the United States, operated by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo).

A gold mine on a cosmic scale has been found in a galaxy far, far away, where astronomers watched the titanic collision between two super-dense neutron stars. Therefore, researchers called this event a "cosmic mine" of heavier elements.

"It immediately appeared to us the source was likely to be neutron stars, the other coveted source we were hoping to see-and promising the world we would see", says David Shoemaker, spokesperson for the Ligo Scientific Collaboration and senior research scientist in MIT's Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research.

What they discovered was the heavy elements it released, especially gold and platinum.

The crash happened 130 million years ago, while dinosaurs still roamed on Earth, but the signal didn't arrive on Earth until August 17 after traveling 130 million light-years.

At the exact time this happened, dinosaurs roamed on planet Earth.

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After that, there was a short pause when nothing was detected by Ligo.

In total, astronomers have published more than 30 papers across five journals as a result of the event.

The global researchers expect to spend many months trawling through the mountain of data.

What was left after the burst is not completely known.

Scientists now know that one type of GRB is generated when neutron stars collide. These bursts shoot out in two different directions perpendicular to where the two neutron stars first crash, Reitze said.

Astronomers have always been curious about sudden, intense blasts of radiation from deep space known as gamma ray bursts.

Calculations from a telescope measuring ultraviolet light showed that the combined mass of the heavy elements from this explosion is 1,300 times the mass of Earth.

British Ligo scientist Professor BS Sathyaprakash, from the University of Cardiff, described the new discovery as "truly a eureka moment".

Scientists involved with the search for gravitational waves said this was the event they had prepared for over more than 20 years.

It was here the first discovery of gravitational waves was made in September 2015, confirming a prediction made by Albert Einstein 100 years ago and earning three pioneers of the project a Nobel Prize. "It's not clear cut which one we have seen", says Pannarale. In the wake of the first discovery of a binary pair of neutron stars, Professor Tsvi Piran, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, along with his colleagues, investigated the idea of what would happen to such a pair as they orbited one another.