First detection of gravitational waves from neutron-star crash marks new era of astronomy

By Mike Wall
October 16, 2017, 3:06:21 PM EDT

A new era of astronomy has begun.

For the first time ever, scientists have spotted both gravitational waves and light coming from the same cosmic event — in this case, the cataclysmic merger of two superdense stellar corpses known as neutron stars.

The landmark discovery initiates the field of "multimessenger astrophysics," which promises to reveal exciting new insights about the cosmos, researchers said. The find also provides the first solid evidence that neutron-star smashups are the source of much of the universe's gold, platinum and other heavy elements. [Gravitational Waves from Neutron Stars: The Discovery Explained]

neutron star impact

An artist’s illustration of merging neutron stars. Credit: Robin Dienel; Carnegie Institution for Science

How do researchers describe the finding? "Superlatives fail," said Richard O'Shaughnessy, a scientist with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) project.

"This is a transformation in the way that we're going to do astronomy," O'Shaughnessy, who's based at the Rochester Institute of Technology's Center for Computational Relativity and Gravitation, told "It's fantastic."

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