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Sean Carroll

Standard Sirens

16 Oct 2017, 15:52 UTC
Standard Sirens
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

Everyone is rightly excited about the latest gravitational-wave discovery. The LIGO observatory, recently joined by its European partner VIRGO, had previously seen gravitational waves from coalescing black holes. Which is super-awesome, but also a bit lonely — black holes are black, so we detect the gravitational waves and little else. Since our current gravitational-wave observatories aren’t very good at pinpointing source locations on the sky, we’ve been completely unable to say which galaxy, for example, the events originated in.
This has changed now, as we’ve launched the era of “multi-messenger astronomy,” detecting both gravitational and electromagnetic radiation from a single source. The event was the merger of two neutron stars, rather than black holes, and all that matter coming together in a giant conflagration lit up the sky in a large number of wavelengths simultaneously.
Look at all those different observatories, and all those wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation! Radio, infrared, optical, ultraviolet, X-ray, and gamma-ray — soup to nuts, astronomically speaking.
A lot of cutting-edge science will come out of this, see e.g. this main science paper. Apparently some folks are very excited by the fact that the event produced an amount of gold equal to several times the mass ...

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