Sydney scientists make big space discovery

17 October, 2017, 00:33 | Author: Brenda Erickson
  • Video This artist’s view shows the moments before and the nine days following a kilonova. Two neutron stars spiral inward creating gravitational waves. After the merger a jet produces gamma rays, while expanding radioactive debr

If you have a piece of gold jewelry, there's a good chance those gold atoms were made in a neutron star collision in our own galaxy billions of years ago.

Because they were the first to find the event, the Carnegie astronomers had time for additional observations. Apparently, the fabric of the universe ripples just as water does.

On Aug. 17, LIGO and its new Italian counterpart, VIRGO, detected a hiccup in gravitational waves.

The U.S. -based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory and the Virgo detector in Italy announced on October 16 that all three of their detectors had picked up the ripples, or gravitational waves, from this event. "At the other end of the scale, he said, "the two neutron stars would merge and form an unstable, rapidly spinning super-massive neutron star, which could produce a gamma-ray burst after a holdup of tens or hundreds of seconds".

From LIGO: "Artist's illustration of two merging neutron stars". If more neutron star mergers occur, collaboration between LIGO and Virgo can allow ground observatories to immediately point their telescopes to the event epicenter like during the NGC 4993 merger.

Less than a month after three USA professors were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for the 2105 discovery of gravitational waves, a team of Australian astrophysicists, including Swinburne researchers, have announced a new worldwide discovery.

The discoveries are being hailed by astrophysicists as the most important of a generation and for most a once in a career event. "This is akin to seeing the lightning bolt and hearing the thunder". The deluge brought the news: Telescopes and detectors across the world were making a monumental observation. "It's been an unbelievable few weeks".

Scientists have described the findings as "astonishing", one of the "biggest astronomical discoveries of the century so far", and an "incredible feat in technology" some 40 years after gravity waves from black holes were first detected. According to that thinking, the crash of neutron stars ejects matter in what's called a kilonova.

Everyone agrees on the ballpark number, but whether it's exactly 67 or 72 kilometers per second per megaparsec is hotly debated.

With help from thousands of scientists across the globe, LIGO was then able to use other ground-based telescopes to confirm the fading after-glow of a typical gamma-ray burst.

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"We've been incredibly lucky", said Joshua Smith, the director of the Gravitational-Wave Physics and Astronomy Center at Cal State Fullerton, who contributed to the research. "It is also the loudest gravitational wave signal we've detected". "And it was lovely".

His mathematics showed that massive accelerating objects - such as neutron stars or black holes - that orbit each other distort both space and time and emit a type of radiation known as gravitational waves. Reportedly, a handful of neutron star material weighs as much as Mount Everest!

This signal, dubbed GW170817, looked very different from the waves produced by colliding black holes, Reitze said.

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.

Neutron stars, the densest in the universe and measuring just 10km across, are found alone but also in pairs orbiting each other. This confirmed that "maybe half, maybe more, of the heavy elements in the Universe are actually produced by this kind of collision", said physicist Patrick Sutton, a member of LIGO. These gravitational waves were strong enough that the two LIGO observatories and the European sister station, Virgo, all picked up the signals. The Italian detector had just started up, and the Louisiana and Hanford locations were just a week from shutting down for a year of maintenance.

Earth's first inkling of the neutron-star collision came on August 17, after LIGO's twin detectors in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La., measured a powerful gravitational "chirp". Two additional detectors are being built in Japan and India. Lasers run the length of each arm, perfectly calibrated to combine in tune with one another, unless one arm suddenly becomes slightly shorter or longer than the other-as would only happen if the universe itself is rippling.

"We're still culling the data", Mavalvala says.

"With this we truly open a new era of astronomy", he said.

After the team identified the likely source for the gravitational waves, the next question involved what caused the outburst.

Gravitational waves travel at the speed of light. He landed to dozens of texts and notifications.


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