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A Scientific Breakthrough! Combining Gravitational and Electromagnetic Waves

16 Oct 2017, 15:10 UTC
A Scientific Breakthrough! Combining Gravitational and Electromagnetic Waves
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

Gravitational waves are now the most important new tool in the astronomer’s toolbox. Already they’ve been used to confirm that large black holes — with masses ten or more times that of the Sun — and mergers of these large black holes to form even larger ones, are not uncommon in the universe. Today it goes a big step further.
It’s long been known that neutron stars, remnants of collapsed stars that have exploded as supernovas, are common in the universe. And it’s been known almost as long that sometimes neutron stars travel in pairs. (In fact that’s how gravitational waves were first discovered, indirectly, back in the 1970s.) Stars often form in pairs, and sometimes both stars explode as supernovas, leaving their neutron star relics in orbit around one another. Neutron stars are small — just ten or so kilometers (miles) across. According to Einstein’s theory of gravity, a pair of stars should gradually lose energy by emitting gravitational waves into space, and slowly but surely the two objects should spiral in on one another. Eventually, after many millions or even billions of years, they collide and merge into a larger neutron star, or into a black hole. This ...

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