Hot on the heels of the LIGO founders being awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics, the LIGO/VIRGO collaboration, in conjunction with the ESO, have struck gold again. After four detections of gravitational waves from black hole-black hole collisions, LIGO has detected what it was originally designed to detect: the merger of two neutron stars. What’s more, as a bonus, the collision has also been observed in the EM spectrum by multiple astronomy teams around the world in the gamma, X-ray, UV, visible, IR, and radio portions of the spectrum. Analysis of the data gathered by these observations indicates what was expected: the large-scale production of heavy nuclei.
We have well and truly entered the era of multi-messenger astronomy.
Alas, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory did not detect any accompanying neutrinos from this event, which would have been something of a trifecta. IceCube researchers point out that this result is not surprising given that we are well off-axis from any jets produced by this event. Left unsaid by the researchers is the fact that, at a distance of 130 million light-years away, this event was substantially further away than what was arguably the first multi-messenger astronomy event, the detection (optically and via neutrinos) of supernova SN1987a, which, at a distance of a mere 168,000 light years, was practically next door by cosmological standards and resulted in the detection of only a handful of neutrino events.
LIGO/Virgo detected the event (dubbed GW170817) on 17 August 2017. Two seconds later, both the Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope (operated by NASA) and INTErnational Gamma Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (INTEGRAL) (operated by the ESA) detected a gamma ray burst from the same area. Around the world, telescopes swung into action to observe that part of the sky, including VISTA, VST, REM, LCO, DECam, Swope, Pan-STARRS, and Subaru. Soon, the search was narrowed down to a point of light near galaxy NGC 4993. Subsequent observations were also carried out by VLT, NTT, MPG/ESO, ALMA, ePESSTO, the Hubble Space Telescope, and many others. Spectroscopic analysis of ejecta from the kilonova is consistent with large-scale r-process nucleosynthesis, consistent with theoretical models of neutron star mergers.
For More Information
- ESO Telescopes Observe First Light from Gravitational Wave Source | ESO
- GW170817 – THE FIRST OBSERVATION OF GRAVITATIONAL-WAVES FROM A BINARY NEUTRON STAR INSPIRAL | LIGO
- NASA Missions Catch First Light from a Gravitational-Wave Event | NASA
- LIGO and Virgo make first detection of gravitational waves produced by colliding neutron stars – Discovery marks first cosmic event observed in both gravitational waves and light. | LIGO
- NASA Missions Catch First Light From a Gravitational-Wave Event | HubbleSite
- Standard Sirens | Preposterous Universe
- Viewpoint: Neutron Star Merger Seen and Heard | APS Physics
- Kilonovae, short gamma-ray bursts & neutron star mergers | Nature
- Colliding stars spark rush to solve cosmic mysteries | Nature
- No neutrino emission from a binary neutron star merger | IceCube
- The era of multimessenger astronomy begins | Physics Today
- First observation of gravitational waves from merging neutron stars | Max Planck Institute
- A Scientific Breakthrough! Combining Gravitational and Electromagnetic Waves | Of Particular Significance
- Scientists observe first verified neutron-star collision | Symmetry
- Neutron star collision sparks new era of discovery | PI: Inside the Perimeter
- BIG NEWS: FOR THE FIRST TIME, ASTRONOMERS DETECT GRAVITATIONAL WAVES FROM TWO NEUTRON STARS CRASHING TOGETHER! | Phil Plait
- For The First Time, Astronomers Observed The Merging Of Neutron Stars | Starts With A Bang
- A Neutron Star Collision: Gamma Rays & Gravitational Waves | Physics Buzz
- Spectacular collision of two neutron stars observed for first time | IOP PhysicsWorld.com
- IOP hails detection of gravitational waves from collision of neutron stars | IOP
- Neutron star smashup seen for first time, ‘transforms’ understanding of Universe | Phys.org
- Neutron star collision showers the universe with a wealth of discoveries | ScienceNews