Massive Neutron Star Collisions Explain the Universe's Gold, Platinum, and Uranium

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

"The same source, the neutron star merger, was detected by LIGO-Virgo, a short gamma ray burst was simultaneously detected by instruments on board the Fermi satellite, and an optical/near-infrared source detected via large field-of-view imagers".

Not only is the first time we've spotted a neutron star merger, but it's also the first time gravitational waves have been detected from anything other than black hole mergers, which are invisible to telescopes. These were created by the union of two massive black holes. The LIGO Scientific Collaboration and another group, Virgo Collaboration, identified the collision on August 17. Astronomers worked together to locate the area where the merger occurred. They narrowed it down to a rather small patch of the southern sky.

According to Dale Frail of the National Radio Astronomy Observatory, the kilonova spotted in August is the "first unambiguous detection of a merger of two neutron stars".

Gamma ray burst are explosions in distant galaxies that release extremely high amounts of energy.

Scientists have detected gravitational waves for the first time ever.

"This is a revolution in astronomy, of having thousands of astronomers focus on one source for weeks and having this collaboration unravel in seconds, in hours, then days, and weeks".

So where will all these new discoveries lead us? Since then, detecting gravitational waves from colliding black holes has started to feel like familiar territory, with four further such events detected. For the past century, astronomers have been trying to figure out how to detect the ripples, which were predicted by Albert Einstein in his theory of general relativity. But Smartt added that, by the time dusk fell in Paranal, the LIGO-Virgo collaboration had refined their localization of the GW signal, to the extent that searching for an electromagnetic counterpart became feasible.

Archana Pai (Department of Physics, IIT-B): Her expertise on gravitational wave multi-detector algorithms and probing astrophysical parameters steered the joint detection scenario. LIGO is comprised of two observatories, one in Hanford, Washington, and the other in Livingston, Louisiana. As the wing of night swept over the globe, the signal was picked up in Hawaii and over the following weeks, about 70 observatories watched the event unfold when they were on the dark side of the earth.

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"Gravitational astronomy is just the beginning", he said.

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. The optical data helps astronomers to interpret the LIGO data and vice versa, Valenti said. After scientists ruled out the hypothesis regarding the gamma ray bursts and Russian nuclear bombs, the observation of the neutron stars was followed by a short gamma ray burst which quickly came after the moment of the collision.

The collision took place so far away that the light and gravitational waves have only reached Earth recently. "Virgo in a way missed it, because it happened to be in a narrow part of the sky where Virgo couldn't quite catch it", said Kalogera.

The discovery of gravitational waves was so important that three U.S scientists behind it were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics this month.

Swope observatory (ground-based) in Chile first saw it and snapped its images in visible lights. This includes crucial visible-light observations by the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) one day after the merger event; and monitoring by an worldwide network of radio observatories that included SARAO's HartRAO. "There's nothing like the feeling knowing you're one of the first people in the world to see a new phenomenon". While we've suspected neutron stars to be key to producing these elements in space, that hypothesis now looks a whole lot more convincing.

The impact of the merger is called kilonova, an enormously explosive event.

That's "the first concrete proof that such smashups are the birthplace of half of the universe's elements heavier than iron, including gold and platinum", the LIGO team said in a statement.

"Theorists have been working on kilonova for the past decade, and now with this one singular event, all this decade of work is all kind of coming to a head", Tony Piro, principal investigator of the Swope Supernova Survey, told The Verge.

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