Hardly two years after the first discovery of gravitational waves, the world of astrophysics has been shaken by a second breakthrough.
For the first time, astronomers have been able to detect both gravitational waves and light from the fusion of two neutron stars. The discovery is a scientific sensation, as it allows scientists for the first time to visually pinpoint the origin of a gravitational wave.
Gravitational waves are “ripples” in space, that originate form the most powerful and energetic events in the universe, like the fusion of black holes or neutron stars. They are detectable as an acoustic signal with detectors like the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO). In contrast to the collision of black holes, the fusion of neutron stars also generates a visual signal in the form of electromagnetic radiation. This very bright light burst can be detected with telescopes and thus seen from earth.
Rumors about a new discovery in the ongoing search for gravitational waves have already been buzzing through the media since late summer, when astronomer J. Craig Wheeler from the University of Texas tweeted about an optical counterpart to LIGO.
The new findings were announced in simultaneous press conferences in the United States and in Germany, at the headquarters of the European South Observatory (ESO) in Garchingen. Next to the ESO, the LIGO project and the VIRGO interferometer in Italy, scientists from more than 70 observatories participated in the research that led to the discovery.
Ever since the first discovery, gravitational waves have been a hype in the media. And the revelation of these new findings comes only two weeks after the LIGO project was honored with the Nobel Prize in Physics. The press conferences were accompanied by the publication of seven scientific papers in the publications Nature and Nature Astronomy.