Skip to main content

Hello, Multi-Messenger Astronomy!

As we posted Monday, it has certainly been a busy season for the scientists behind the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and its European counterpart, Virgo. Yesterday’s announcement of a neutron star merger is especially exciting because it’s the first detection made with gravitational waves that could also be viewed using optical telescopes. Within just a few hours of the initial gravitational wave detection and the gamma ray burst that arrived 1.5 seconds later, telescopes all over the world began to focus their gaze on the same region of the sky, catching a multispectral “kilonova” in action. “It was this extraordinary 2-to-3 day period,” said Aidan Brooks, staff scientist at the California Institute of Technology working on LIGO. “Everybody was completely elated and we just had this sort of amazing science flow in immediately after making this detection.”

For Anna Frebel, Associate Professor of Physics at MIT, this neutron star merger corroborates her work on the formation of heavy elements, which were once thought to form primarily in supernovae. When two neutron stars collide, “there's a lot of element formation going on, which means there's a lot of decaying going on in the process of creating stable elements,” she noted. “That extra light can actually be observed—this is exactly what has been observed—and this is absolutely amazing because for the first time we have the opportunity to actually see, basically with our own eyes (and aided by telescopes), we can see element production happening.”

All three detectors are undergoing upgrades at the moment, but when they are turned back on for the next observing run next year, they’re expected to find a myriad of other extreme astronomical events. Armed with this population of black hole mergers, supernovae, colliding neutron stars—and, well, maybe something else we’re not expecting—astronomers will be busy unlocking new secrets of the universe for a long time to come.

Meg Rosenburg


Popular Posts

How 4,000 Physicists Gave a Vegas Casino its Worst Week Ever

What happens when several thousand distinguished physicists, researchers, and students descend on the nation’s gambling capital for a conference? The answer is "a bad week for the casino"—but you'd never guess why.

Ask a Physicist: Phone Flash Sharpie Shock!

Lexie and Xavier, from Orlando, FL want to know: "What's going on in this video ? Our science teacher claims that the pain comes from a small electrical shock, but we believe that this is due to the absorption of light. Please help us resolve this dispute!"

The Science of Ice Cream: Part One

Even though it's been a warm couple of months already, it's officially summer. A delicious, science-filled way to beat the heat? Making homemade ice cream. (We've since updated this article to include the science behind vegan ice cream. To learn more about ice cream science, check out The Science of Ice Cream, Redux ) Image Credit: St0rmz via Flickr Over at Physics@Home there's an easy recipe for homemade ice cream. But what kind of milk should you use to make ice cream? And do you really need to chill the ice cream base before making it? Why do ice cream recipes always call for salt on ice?