Gravitational wave detectors discover cosmic goldmine.

Gravitational wave detectors discover cosmic goldmine.

The nobel prize was already in the pocket but the truly spectacular discovery is only just been done.

Two years ago scientists claimed a stunning discovery in their quest to fully understand gravity. They observed the warping of space-time generated by the collision of two black wholes, more than a billion light years from earth. The minuscule ripples detected in space-time (first predicted one century ago by Albert Einstein) were detected four times earlier. And they always came from colliding black holes.

Ripples in the fabric of space-time

– Gravitational waves are a prediction of the theory of general relativity.

– Their existence has been inferred by science but only now directly detected.

– They are ripples in the fabric of space-time produced by violent events.

– Accelerating masses will produce waves that propagate at the speed of light.

– Detectable sources ought to include merging black holes and neutron stars.

– LIGO fires lasers into long, L shaped tunnels; the waves disturb the light.

– Detecting the waves opens up the universe to completely new investigations.

On the 17th of August such Einstein waves have also been observed from two colliding neutron stars. These are the remains of exploded giant stars. They are bizarre objects that are heavier than the sun but no more than a kilometer or twenty. The catastrophic blow has also been seen with numerous of “regular” telescopes. Especially that – the discovery with the new gravity wave detector and with ordinary telescopes – is what makes this discovery so special.

New sense.

The discovery of gravity waves two years ago opened a whole new window in the universe. It’s almost like astronomers have a new sense, up until now they were only able to see light and other radiation. Now phenomenas in the universe are also able to “feel”. And with GW170817 (The official name of the burst of gravity waves) it has now been the first time for astronomers to see both signals. Seeing and feeling at the same time is what makes the picture complete.

You could compare it to getting to know people on social media, if you only communicate with photo’s on snapchat or tinder you only know how they look. Then it’s a lot when you discover whats’app; now you can also read what other people write and think about all kinds of things. But it will only be interesting if you can use both senses at once. If you know how they look and if you can talk to him or her too. That combination of senses is what has now been achieved with this discovery.

This is really great.

This form of multi-messenger astronomy ultimately yields a lot of information about neutron stars, about the behavior of matter under extreme circumstances, and about the origin of the elements, according to an excited Ralph Wijers, director of the astronomical institute of the university of Amsterdam. “There is immediately so much information available, this is really great.”

“With this discovery, gravity-astronomy proves to be a brand new and promising field of research” physicist Barry Barish responds via email from Californië. Barish was Co-founder of the American LIGO detector that measured the minuscule space ripples for the first time in September 2015, and two weeks ago one of three winners of the nobel prize for physics 2017.

Radio-active fireball

The two neutron stars were rotating in an ever decreasing job in a star system at 130 million light years of distance. For over a minute and a half they brought the empty space to a noticeable shuddering and then they broke up.

While colliding black holes remain invisible, the neutron starcrash produced a giant radioactive fireball, with an exhaust rate of about 100.000 kilometers per second – one third of light speed. Crashed nuclear reactions in that cloud of explosion created large amounts of rare heavy elements.

According to astronomer Gijs Nelemans of Radboud University in Nijmegen, an unimaginable amount of gold has also occured in the collision.

“Maybe as much as the mass of the earth” he says. “The vast majority of all the gold in the universe is presumably formed during such collisions.”

Measurement data from the Virgo detector -European LIGO’s brother – could quickly calculate the direction from which Einstein waves originated. Then with lots of man power they sought to see something, especially in that part of the starry sky, with ordinary telescopes.

Raid hunt

It’s like the astronomers on earth and in space have been put on a raid hunt and the harvest of that raid is huge. The cosmic blow not only glows in visible light, but also in infrared, ultraviolet, in X Ray and on radio wavelengths.

According to astronomer Vicky Kalogera of North Western University in Illinois, the neutron crash is probably the most widely studied phenomenon in the universe ever. “It’s about almost 100 scientific publications”, she says. “A total of 4000 astronomers from more than 900 institutes were involved. That’s about one third of all the astronomers in the world.”

Cosmic messengers

Astronomers have to work with that the cosmos has to offer them. For a long time this was only visible light, but more and more new “messengers” have been added. First; other types of electromagnetic radiation, afterwards; also particles of matter and recently Einstein waves, small ripples in the fabric of space-time. Astronomers can add a new fashionword; Multi messenger astronomy.

1609 – Galileo Galilei first used a telescope for research in the universe.

1800 – William Herschell discovers infrared radiation.

1912 – Victor Hess measures electrically charged particles from the cosmos (cosmic radiation)

1932 – Karl Jansky discovered radio radiation from the universe.

1962 – A sattelite originates from the outside of the solar system for the first time.

1969 – Apollo astronautes bring soil samples from the moon back to earth.

1987 – First observation of neutrino’s of a distant supernova explosion.

2015 – LIGO detects for the first time gravity waves of colliding black holes.

2017 – First simultaneous observation of gravity waves and electromagnetic radiation of two colliding neutron stars.

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