Sci­en­tists ob­serve neu­tron stars col­li­sion: Call it a begin­ning of a new era

Chemical Industry Digest - - Science Pages -

For

the first time in his­tory, sci­en­tists have de­tected the col­li­sion of two neu­tron stars, yield­ing new in­sights into physics, the struc­ture of the uni­verse, and the ori­gin of el­e­ments such as gold and plat­inum.

Re­searchers re­cently an­nounced this dis­cov­ery, af­ter they de­tected the ev­i­dence of the col­li­sion 130 mil­lion light years away on Aug 17, 2017. The col­li­sion was de­tected both through grav­i­ta­tional waves and through tele­scopes.

“This is an amaz­ing, amaz­ing dis­cov­ery,” said David Reitze, Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor, LIGO Lab­o­ra­tory/ Cal­tech, told the press. The grav­i­ta­tional waves were first de­tected by the Virgo in­ter­fer­om­e­ter in Europe, then by both Laser In­ter­fer­om­e­ter Grav­i­ta­tion­alWave Ob­ser­va­tory (LIGO) lo­ca­tions in Louisiana and Washington state mil­lisec­onds later.

At around the same time, NASA’s Fermi tele­scope picked up a short gamma-ray burst - a pulse of light from the ex­plo­sion made as the neu­tron stars merged. Neu­tron stars are ex­tremely dense bod­ies made purely of neu­trons and pro­duced by the ex­plo­sion of su­per­novae. They have about 1.5 times the mass of the sun, crushed into a body about the size of a medium-sized city, such as San Francisco, US. Sci­en­tists had the­o­rized that these bod­ies merged, but this is the first time they have ever been spot­ted.

The find­ings are nu­mer­ous. Us­ing the data, LIGO and Virgo sci­en­tists have de­vel­oped a new method for us­ing the grav­i­ta­tional wave sig­nals to mea­sure the rate at which the uni­verse is ex­pand­ing, some­thing sci­en­tists have been try­ing to do for a long time. The dis­cov­ery also showed that the col­li­sions of neu­tron stars pro­duce neu­tron-rich heavy el­e­ments, some­thing as­tronomers had sus­pected.

“This re­sult pro­vides de­fin­i­tive ev­i­dence for the first time that el­e­ments such as plat­inum, gold, and ura­nium are ac­tu­ally pro­duced in these col­li­sions,” Reitze said. Find­ings have been pub­lished in sev­eral sci­en­tific jour­nals, in­clud­ing Sci­ence, Na­ture, Phys­i­cal Re­view Let­ters and The Astro­phys­i­cal Jour­nal.

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