Scientists observe burst of light when stars collide

Xinhua
Scientists have for the first time detected gravitational waves, the ripples in space and time predicted by Albert Einstein, at the same time as light from the same cosmic event.
Xinhua
Xinhua

Scientists hold a press conference in Washington, US, on October 16, announcing they have for the first time detected gravitational waves, the ripples in space and time predicted by Albert Einstein, at the same time as light from the same cosmic event.

Scientists have for the first time detected gravitational waves, the ripples in space and time predicted by Albert Einstein, at the same time as light from the same cosmic event, according to research published yesterday.

The waves, caused by the collision of two neutron stars some 130 million years ago, were first detected in August in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatories (LIGO) in Washington state and Louisiana as well as at a detector in Italy.

Two seconds later, observatories on Earth and in space detected a burst of light in the form of gamma rays from the same path of the southern sky, which analysis showed was likely to be from the same source.

Less than two years have passed since scientists working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology first detected gravitational waves coming from two black holes.

The waves had been predicted by Einstein in 1916, as an outgrowth of his general theory of relativity, which depicted gravity as a distortion of space and time triggered by the presence of matter.

Three US scientists who made that discovery were awarded the Nobel prize in physics earlier this month.

The findings published yesterday help confirm Einstein’s theory, said the researchers.

“From informing detailed models of the inner workings of neutron stars and the emissions they produce, to more fundamental physics such as general relativity, this event is just so rich,” said MIT senior research scientist David Shoemaker. “It is a gift that will keep on giving.”

The LIGO instruments work in unison and use lasers to detect remarkably small vibrations from gravitational waves as they pass through the Earth.

Previously, scientists could only study space by observing electromagnetic waves such as radio waves, visible light, infrared light, X-rays and gamma rays. Those waves encounter interference as they travel across the universe, but gravitational waves do not, thus offer a wealth of additional information.


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