An artist’s conception shows a neutron star swirling around a black hole. (OzGrav ARC Centre of Excellence Illustration via Australian National University / Carl Knox)
The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, has detected mergers of black holes, and even a couple of neutron star smash-ups. But it hasn’t yet confirmed the signature of a black hole gobbling a neutron star.
That could soon change.
Over the past week, physicists have been buzzing over an Aug. 14 detection made by the twin LIGO detectors in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La., as well as by the European Virgo gravitational-wave detector in Italy. Those L-shaped facilities monitor ever-so-slight fluctuations in laser beams to look for wobbles in spacetime caused by passing gravitational waves.
The types of waves that LIGO and Virgo detect are given off only by violent cosmic events such as supernova explosions and cataclysmic collisions. LIGO’s first black hole detection, made in 2015, earned the Nobel Prize in physics two years later. More such detections have been made since then.
Detecting the first neutron star merger, and matching that event up with multispectral observations from a wide array of telescopes, marked another milestone in 2017. Neutron stars are the super-dense ...