First detected neutron star merger reveals more than gravitational waves

The LIGO gravitational-wave detectors in Hanford Washington, and Livingston Louisiana

Professor Laura Cadonati, from Georgia Institute of Technology, and the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Ligo), which first observed gravitational waves in 2015, said: "This detection has genuinely opened the doors to a new way of doing astrophysics".

One is that the US -based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Europe-based Virgo detector have now both detected gravitational waves from the collision of two neutron stars; previously, they'd seen gravitational waves only from black hole collisions. 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. By using LIGO to measure gravitational waves while watching this event unfold, researchers came up with a new estimate for how fast that is happening, the so-called Hubble Constant.

It's humbling to realize that the material in your wedding ring or catalytic converter came to Earth from stellar collisions eons ago spreading heavy elements across the universe.

The two neutron stars smashing into each other creates a kilonova, which is also expected to throw heavy elements into space.

Evidence of the neutron star merger, announced Monday, comes two years after Cal State Fullerton researchers and others recorded evidence of the merger of two black holes. "By 2020 I expect at least one to two of these every month". On top of that, two NASA satellites detected a GRB signal that arrived just two seconds after the GW source, from approximately the same area of the sky.

However, it was daytime in Chile when those signals appeared - meaning that none of the telescopes there could observe anything immediately. This is how it sounded to the LIGO and VIRGO observatories. This marked the first joint detection of gravitational and electromagnetic waves from the same event. "This is what caused the GW source on August 17, and the GRBs that we saw".

The LIGO data indicated that two astrophysical objects located at the relatively close distance of about 130 million light-years from Earth had been spiraling in toward each other.

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Hughes said that the observations were the first in which "we have definitively associated any short gamma-ray burst with a progenitor". It also emitted a broad swath of electromagnetic radiation that could be seen by more traditional telescopes, including ones that capture visible light.

Professor Susan Scott, chief investigator from the Research School of Physics and Engineering at The Australian National University, said: "We knew that eventually many of them must smash together in violent collisions but we had never seen it happen".

Because of its Earth-trailing orbit, Spitzer was uniquely situated to observe the kilonova long after the Sun moved too close to the galaxy for other telescopes to see it. Spitzer's September 30 observation captured the longest-wavelength infrared light from the kilonova, which unveils the quantity of heavy elements forged. This time, they reported a two-minute-long increase in frequency that took two minutes to finally stop. The goal is to come up with other observations that will show how the universe itself behaves.

"This kind of object has been termed a "kilonova", and this is the first discovery of one". This is the first time scientists observed one caused by a neutron star crash.

The collision spat out heavy elements such as gold, platinum and lead in the huge supernova, called a kilonova, that followed.

"There are some types of things that neutron stars could be made of that we're sure they're not made of, because they didn't squish that much" during the merger, O'Shaughnessy said. "Once released from the neutron stars' gravitational field", the matter "would transmute into a cloud full of the heavy elements we see on rocky planets like Earth", Dent explained. Right now, it's the greatest show in astronomy. "We have entered a new era of multi-messenger astronomy!" added Andrew Levan. "With information provided by both gravitational waves and electromagnetic waves, which are completely different phenomena, it's like being able to both see and hear the same event for the first time", said Gregg Hallinan, of Caltech. The scientists at the National Science Foundation's Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves dubbed GW170817 from a pair of smashing stars tied to the gamma-ray burst, encouraging astronomers to look for the aftermath of the explosion.

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