Gravitational waves team discovers elemental creation in star collisions

Dawn of an Era: Astronomers Hear and See Cosmic Collision

This much science fiction can be inferred by the layperson from the findings of the European Southern Observatory (ESO), which has announced the first direct, visual identification of the source of a gravitational wave - the very one detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) on August 17.

The dawn of "multi-messenger astrophysics", which pairs telescope observations with gravitational wave detections to deepen scientists' understanding of cosmic events, also promises answers to some of the most persistent questions about the Universe.

A gold mine on a cosmic scale has been found in a galaxy far, far away, where astronomers watched the titanic collision between two super-dense neutron stars.

"On that morning, all of our dreams came true". When two neutron stars combine, they spiral around each other, growing closer and closer over time.

In the hours, days and weeks following the smashup, other forms of light or electromagnetic radiation - including X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio waves - were detected.

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"We are going to plan our mission and our strategy in a different way", Troja said. That's because the source of the waves this time was two 'neutron stars' - incredibly dense stellar remnants the size of a city, each weighing more than the sun.

The neutron stars that merged were each 1.1 to 1.4 times the mass of our sun. It led to the production of gold, platinum and uranium which are heavy elements. In the earlier stages of the universe, only lighter elements like hydrogen and helium existed (in significant quantities, at least). However, the theory says the heaviest element which can possibly come from a star is iron.

ANU astronomer Dr Christian Wolf says his team used the SkyMapper and 2.3-metre telescopes at the ANU Siding Spring Observatory as part of the search for other signals from the neutron star collision.

According to researchers, the discovery also uncovers the mystery of the origins of heavy elements. What are neutron stars? Our paper will appear in Nature on October 16. The signal managed to last for about 100 seconds. However, the Hanford signal was good enough to trigger a deeper analysis of the data that quickly located the signature. For several decades we have observed these gamma ray bursts, but without knowing for sure what causes them.

Just 1.7 seconds after the LIGO and Virgo gravitational wave detectors felt the first pulse of the collision, NASA's Fermi space telescope caught a faint, short burst of gamma rays streaming from the same spot in the sky. It was the first observation of an event through multiple means like gravitational waves, gamma rays, and visible light. In addition to the LIGO detectors, the newly launched Virgo observatory in Italy helped to zero-in on the location of the explosion.

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By working together collaboratively, using instruments that operate not just across the entire spectrum of light but are sensitive to gravitational waves and even neutrinos too, astronomers are poised to fully open a completely new "multi-messenger" window on the universe, with many further discoveries to be made and cosmic mysteries to be solved. They said that numerous precious metals found on Earth, such as gold and platinum, can trace back their origin from the merger of neutron stars. Though astronomers have witnessed ripples in the fabric of space in time before (created by objects moving in the Universe), this is the first time in history the event was detectable by regular light telescopes.

LIGO and Virgo are based on Einstein's General Theory of Relativity, which holds that gravity can be understood as a wave passing through space-time like a ripple across a pond.

As the oscillation of electric charge in the magnetic field produce electromagnetic waves, oscillation of masses in a gravitational field, Einstein said, would produce gravitational waves.

Professor Bob Nichol, director of the Institute of Cosmology and Gravitation at the University of Portsmouth, added: 'It doesn't get more exciting that this for an astronomer'. He is hopeful that that planned LIGO-India detector, jointly funded by the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) and the Department of Science & Technology (DST), "will increase the sensitivity of the worldwide gravitational-wave network and help pinpoint the exact location of the gravitational wave event". In addition to gravitational wave detectors, traditional telescopes could observe the event.

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