Gravitational Waves Detected by Neutron Stars Colliding For the First Time

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Following the confirmation of Gravitational waves in 2015, the paper published in 2016 and the Nobel Prize awarded in 2017, an international group of researchers including Southampton locals have detected further ripples in the gravitational field. This time due to two neutron stars crashing into each other.

The announcement of the discovery of gravitational waves in 2016 (which Southampton researchers were also involved with) took the astrophysics world by storm, as a prediction that was made by Einstein 100 years earlier had finally been confirmed. The discovery has further cemented the general theory of relativity, Einstein’s greatest achievement, as the strongest theory we have for how stuff works.

The latest discovery is the ripple in gravity (which was measured for just 100 seconds) itself caused by two neutron stars colliding. Neutron stars are the densest stars in the universe, roughly the size of New York City but many times more massive than our own Sun, they are created when a dying star explodes and go supernova. Over 70 earth and space observatories were called into action to make the required measurements. As the two neutron stars orbited each other, they gained speed and got closer and closer, in the process distorting the surrounding space-time itself, before finally crashing into each other.

The University of Southampton’s Professor Ian Jones was one of the 1200 strong group of researchers, physicists and mathematicians based in 16 different countries that was involved in detecting such fluctuations of gravity. Having worked on the international gravitation wave detection project for 14 years, Jones has become quite the expert within the field. He provided the models for detecting these gravitational wave signals from neutrons, as well the process for searching for these tiny fluctuations when they are mixed in with the cosmic mess of other ‘noisy’ data.

Professor Jones commented:

The ripples in gravity we detected, along with the electromagnetic observations made by our colleagues of the accompanying explosion and glowing fireball, show that the era of multi-messenger astronomy has truly arrived.

This ‘fireball’ is composed of a burst electromagnetic gamma rays, which has been followed up by X-rays, UV, visible light, infrared and radio waves over the following days after the collision.

Dr. Inserra, a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Southampton, who was also involved in the project added:

The optical observations we made of this gravitational wave source revealed an astronomical event unlike any other previously observed. Our data show that events like this can be a major source for creating the very heaviest elements in the universe.

First scientists detected gravitational waves from two black holes interacting, now from two neutron stars. Who knows what astro-objects we’ll be detecting them from next?

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