"This is the first time that the collision of two neutron stars has been detected, and this is the closest and most precisely located gravitational wave signal we've received". We haven't been able to register light from these events with any other instruments.
Albert Einstein believed that when objects with mass moved, they should generate gravitational waves - also known as ripples in space and time - but because the waves are so weak, they are hard to detect. After getting the information from these observatories, astronomers pointed out the location where the merger took place. And because the neutron stars are so small, they can get very close to each other before merging, twirling around each other faster and faster as they approach each other. In the days and weeks following the astronomical smash-up, other forms of light, or electromagnetic radiation - including X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio waves - were detected.
The team of gravity wave-hunting scientists working with the LIGO and Virgo detectors announced the first observations of a collision of neutron stars, an "unprecedented discovery", at a press conference on Monday.
One of those scientists was Elena Pian, an Italian astronomer and lead author of one of the scientific papers documenting the discovery, who said: "There are rare occasions when a scientist has the chance to witness a new era at its beginning". The association with the γ-ray burst GRB 170817A, detected by Fermi-GBM 1.7 s after the coalescence, corroborates the hypothesis of a neutron star merger and provides the first direct evidence of a link between these mergers and short γ-ray bursts.
It'll be exciting to follow this process to see exactly what power gravitational waves hold.
The discovery was made on August 17 by the global network of advanced gravitational-wave interferometers - comprising the twin LIGO detectors in the USA and their European cousin, Virgo, in Italy.
One was the length of the signal - it lasted more than 60 seconds, when the four previous GW events each lasted for less than a second.
"This has implications for broad issues in stellar evolution such as how the heavy elements are produced, the mechanism for gamma-ray bursts, detailed internal properties and maximum mass for neutron stars before they must collapse to black holes", he said.
Neutron stars are the strangest stars in the Universe.
"Fermi's observation of a gamma-ray burst at almost the same time added to the excitement and urgency of the moment", Weinstein said.
Two seconds later, NASA's gamma-ray detecting Fermi spacecraft caught the blast.
"We're still culling the data", Mavalvala says.
However, the fact that Virgo couldn't notice it properly helped the astronomers in locating the exact point in space. They know now that it's true, according to Syracuse University physics professor Duncan Brown. They are members of the Frontiers of Gravitational Wave Astrophysics, an RIT signature research initiative within the center, which supports research in multimessenger astronomy, and plays a leadership role in educating students and in developing space-based detectors.
Swope observatory (ground-based) in Chile first saw it and snapped its images in visible lights.
The team used the CSIRO's Australia Telescope Compact Array to monitor the gravitational wave event for more than 40 hours over several weeks. "But the LIGO and Virgo detectors were absolutely essential in identifying and pinpointing the event in the sky, allowing this campaign to proceed", he added.
Instead, the objects were estimated to be around 1.1 and 1.6 times the mass of the sun, in the mass range of neutron stars.
The gravity from a neutron star is nearly as intense as a black hole, and when two of these powerful objects come into contact with each other they start a dramatic dance, swirling around drawing each other closer together until, eventually, they merge.
The giant collision between the binary neutron stars was also observed spectroscopically - with astronomers confirming the formation of gold and platinum metal weighing more than ten times that of Earth.