Huiyan satellite helps measure new type of gravitational wave

Huiyan satellite helps measure new type of gravitational wave

Huiyan satellite helps measure new type of gravitational wave

A huge team of scientists around the world has for the first time witnessed the violent events that lead to the creation of gold, platinum and other heavy metals across the Universe.

The discovery, published Monday in the journal Physical Review Letters, was made possible by the massive, laser-based gravitational wave detectors first envisioned by MIT physicist Rainer Weiss half a century ago and by an worldwide network of partner observatories that responded by quickly aiming telescopes and scanning the night sky in search of the light and other electromagnetic radiation that shot across space from the same collision that emitted the gravitational waves. The detection, by the Ligo team, has confirmed long-held theories about what happens when two of these powerful objects come together.

Previously, scientists could only study space by observing electromagnetic waves such as radio waves, visible light, infrared light, X-rays and gamma rays.

Because LIGO and VIRGO were only able to narrow down the area of sky from where the waves came from to a section containing millions of stars, an global collaborative effort was mounted to try to pinpoint the source.

Before the night was out, a number of different observatories had picked up a new twinkle in the sky.

Butler explained, "The host galaxy - NGC 4993 - is relatively bright and so was the visible light source".

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In 1986, Bernard Schutz of the University of Cardiff in Wales pointed out that binary coalescence - such as the merger of two neutron stars - is a self calibrating standard candle: Measuring its waves makes it possible to directly measure the binary's distance with the cosmic distance ladder. It was also predicted this merge would spew out radioactive material, part of an explosive event known as a kilonova.

This is an idea first postulated by Einstein in his General Theory of Relativity which, among other things, suggests that space and time are not separate and that events experienced at one point in time by one observer can be experienced at a different point in time by a different observer.

During the decades of development of gravitational wave detectors, astronomers had become fascinated by vast bursts of gamma rays coming in from the distant universe at the rate of about one every day. They also obtained the earliest spectra of the collision, which may allow them to explain how numerous universe's heavy elements were created - a decades old question for astrophysicists.

Gravitational waves travel at the speed of light.

"When the spectrum appeared on our screens I realized that this was the most unusual transient event I'd ever seen", Stephen Smartt, who was observing with the ESO's New Technology Telescope, said in the statement. The Virgo interferometer in Europe was critical to pinpoint the origin of the merger because it's oriented differently from LIGO, allowing the gravitational waves to be traced to the source.

Gradually the scientists also observed the colour of the kilonova alter from blue to red over a number of days.

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"If you ask about the scale or history of the universe, one merger doesn't tell us that much", he said.

"Since the first discovery of gravitational waves 2-years ago, astronomers have been working hard to find their counterparts at optical wavelengths", said Professor Fraser. The complete details of this event are described in seven new papers, published today in Nature and Nature Astronomy.

Neutron stars are balls of neutrons, about the size of a city but weighing in at about 1.4 times the mass of our Sun. Where are the heavy elements, like gold, made? Some of the superdense neutron rich matter would be flung into space, where it would be relieved of the massive pressure inside the neutron stars.

Any measurement of binary coalescence that is accompanied by an electromagnetic event, like a gamma-ray burst, can be used to measure the expansion of the universe exactly as was done with GW170817.

Work was also carried out on the discoveries by Dr Antonio Martin-Carrillo and Lána Salmon at UCD's School of Physics.

Three US physicists - Rainer Weiss, Barry Barish and Kip Thorne - were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics this year for the discovery of gravitational waves.

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In yet another nod of good fortune, it so happened that on August 17, the Fermi Gamma-Ray Space Telescope and the International Gamma-Ray Astrophysics Laboratory (Integral) were pointing in the direction of the constellation Hydra.

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