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Scientists spot neutron stars as they clash and flash

Neutron star merger
An artist’s conception shows two neutron stars merging, and sending out radiation as well as gravitational waves in the process. (NSF / LIGO / Sonoma State University Illustration / A. Simonnet)

For the first time ever, researchers have recorded the cataclysmic smash-up of two neutron stars by virtue of their gravitational waves as well as their electromagnetic emissions, producing data that could unlock cosmic secrets galore.

The findings from the Aug. 17 event, detailed today in more than a dozen research papers, represent the best example of “multi-messenger astronomy.”

More than 70 observatories and thousands of scientists contributed to the findings, headed by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO.

“We did it again — but this time, we all did it,” David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory, said at today’s news briefing announcing the results.

By combining the gravitational-wave readings with observations in wavelengths ranging from radio signals to gamma rays, scientists are gaining new insights into how neutron stars evolve, and how gold and other heavy elements are forged in their furnaces.

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Hubbub hints at smash-up of neutron stars

Neutron star merger
An artist’s conception visualizes the gravitational waves given off by a neutron star collision. (LIGO / MIT / Caltech Illustration)

Another big announcement about gravitational waves is coming up, and this time the hints point to  observations in electromagnetic wavelengths as well — emissions of light that may have come from a collision of neutron stars, or a supernova.

That would be a biggie for astronomers: So far, the scientists behind the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, have detected three confirmed collisions of black holes, but no neutron star smash-ups or stellar explosions.

All will be revealed at 7 a.m. PT on Oct. 16, when representatives from LIGO, Europe’s Virgo gravitational-wave observatory, and a sampling of researchers from 70 other observatories are to share new findings during a briefing at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

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Gravitational wave hunters win Nobel for physics

Image: LIGO Hanford
The beamlines for the LIGO detector site at Hanford stretch out across the desert terrain of southeastern Washington. Each arm of the L-shaped detector is 2.5 miles long. (Credit: LIGO)

This year’s Nobel Prize for physics is going, unsurprisingly, to three people who represent the hundreds of researchers behind the first direct detection of gravitational waves at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO.

Some of those researchers work at the LIGO detector in Hanford, Wash.

Like the Nobel-winning discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, LIGO’s discovery was the result of decades of work, undertaken with the expectation of finding evidence for an exotic phenomenon that was long predicted.

But because of the rules for the scientific Nobel Prizes, no more than three physicists could be given a share of the $1.1 million award.

The Nobel laurels are going to MIT’s Rainer Weiss and Caltech’s Barry Barish and Kip Thorne, who are recognized as ringleaders for the $500 million LIGO project.

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The gravitational-wave hunt just got bigger

Gravitational waves
This graphic shows the ripples in spacetime created by gravitational waves emanating from the merger of two black holes. (Max Planck Institute / NCSA Illustration)

Astronomers have detected their fourth gravitational wave from the merger of two black holes, but this one marks a new milestone.

It’s the first wave picked up by the Virgo gravitational-wave detector in Italy — and the first opportunity to triangulate on its location with the twin detectors of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, in Louisiana and Washington state.

The Aug. 14 event, known as GW170814, showed that the ripples in spacetime were emitted by the smash-up of two black holes about 31 times and 25 times as massive as the sun, located about 1.8 billion light-years away. The merger created a single black hole about 53 times the sun’s mass.

Three solar masses were converted directly into gravitational-wave energy, in accordance with Albert Einstein’s famous equation E=mc2.

All that follows the model set by LIGO with its three previous detections since September 2015. The new twist involves folding in the data from Virgo, which started its first full-fledged advanced run in league with LIGO on Aug. 1.

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Third black hole crash expands LIGO frontier

An artist’s conception shows two merging black holes similar to those detected by LIGO. (LIGO / Caltech / MIT / Sonoma State Illustration / Aurore Simonnet)

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory has detected its third confirmed black hole merger, and this one’s a doozy: LIGO’s latest discovery is about 3 billion light-years away, which is more than twice as far away as the first two finds.

The gravitational wave signature of the newly reported smash-up, known as GW170104, also confirms that there’s a heavyweight class for stellar-mass black holes.

“It clearly establishes a new population of black holes that were not known before LIGO,” said Bangalore Sathyaprakash, a physicist at Penn State and Cardiff University.

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LIGO witnesses another black hole crash

Image: Gravitational waves
An artist’s conception shows gravitational waves emanating like ripples in space time as two black holes approach each other in their orbits. (Credit: T. Pyle / LIGO)

t looks as if gravitational-wave watchers are in for a bumpy, beautiful ride. Scientists using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, have confirmed the detection of another merger involving two faraway black holes.

The observations, which were made last Christmas and reported today in a paper published by Physical Review Letters, support the idea that LIGO could open up a whole new branch of astronomy focusing on gravitational disturbances and black holes.

“It is a promising start to mapping the populations of black holes in our universe,” Gabriela Gonzalez, a Louisiana State University astrophysicist who serves as the spokesperson for the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, said in a news release.

She and her colleagues say this smash-up was smaller than the first black-hole merger, which was observed in September and reported by the LIGO team in February. That clash involved black holes that were 29 and 36 times as massive as the sun. This one brought together black holes that were eight and 14 times the sun’s mass.

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1,015 LIGO scientists share $3 million prize

Image: LIGO Hanford
The beamlines for the LIGO detector site at Hanford stretch out across the desert terrain of southeastern Washington. Each arm of the L-shaped detector is 2.5 miles long. (Credit: LIGO)

This year’s revelations about gravitational waves are certain to win someone a Nobel Prize someday, but an even richer prize has already been awarded to the scientists behind the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO.

Caltech’s Kip Thorne and Ronald Drever, along with MIT’s Rainer Weiss, are among the winners of a Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, worth $3 million. Those three founders of the $1.1 billion LIGO project will share $1 million of the prize. The remaining $2 million will be divvied up among the 1,012 authors ofFebruary’s research paper detailing the gravitational wave detection.

The announcement was made on May 2 by the prize selection committee.

Over the past five years, Breakthrough Prizes have been given out to researchers in life sciences, physics and mathematics. The founders of the prize program include such billionaire tech luminaries as Google’s Sergei Brin, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Russian investor Yuri Milner. (Milner is also behind the recently announcedBreakthrough Starshot mission to Alpha Centauri.)

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Gravitational waves spark tuneful tribute

Tim Blais, the singing scientist behind “Bohemian Gravity,” “Rolling in the Higgs” and “The Surface of Light,” is back with another pop parody that’s packed with physics. And this time it’s as big as a black hole – or at least the gravitational waves generated by black holes crashing together.

“LIGO Feel that Space,” sung to the tune of “I Can’t Feel My Face” by The Weeknd, delves into the potentially Nobel-winning detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, better known as LIGO.

Last month’s announcement about the detection set off a wave of wonderment, in part because it affirmed one of the predictions made a century earlier by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity.

Gravitational-wave observations are also expected to provide a new way to study the universe’s most dramatic phenomena, such as supernovae, black hole mergers and neutron star collisions.

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Stephen Hawking hails gravitational wave find

Image: Stephen Hawking
British physicist Stephen Hawking, who has theorized about black holes for decades, congratulated the scientists behind the first-ever detection of gravitational waves. (Credit: NASA)

British physicist Stephen Hawking says the detection of gravitational waves provides a completely new way of looking at the universe, and is at least as important as thedetection of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider.

The results reported by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory mark the first-ever observations of a black hole merger, and the first of what’s expected to be many observations of gravitational waves. “The ability to detect them has the potential to revolutionize astronomy,” Hawking told the BBC after LIGO’s announcement on Feb. 11.

The waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime, set off in the course of gravitational interactions. Their existence was predicted by Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity a century ago, but until now, no instruments were sensitive enough to detect them.

LIGO uses two sets of L-shaped detectors in Hanford, Wash., and Livingston, La. Each detector takes advantage of finely tuned, cross-interfering lasers to register distortions in spacetime that are tinier than one ten-thousandth of the size of a proton.

In addition to confirming a key claim of general relativity, LIGO’s readings provide the best evidence to date that black holes actually exist.

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Scientists detect gravitational waves at last

Image: Black hole merger
A computer simulation shows two black holes shortly before they merge into one. (Credit: SXS)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – After more than a decade of looking, scientists say they’ve detected the gravitational waves given off when two black holes merged into one bigger black hole.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we have detected gravitational waves. We did it!” Caltech physicist David Reitze, executive director of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, declared at the National Press Club on Feb. 11.

Reitze compared the LIGO project to a “scientific moonshot,” and then added, “We landed on the moon.”

The news was greeted with applause at the Washington briefing – and at a gathering of scientists and journalists in Hanford, Wash., the home of one of LIGO’s miles-long, L-shaped detectors.

The detection represents what’s likely to be a Nobel Prize-worthy discovery. It provides the best confirmation yet for a claim made a century ago in Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity: that gravitational interactions should give off energy in the form of ripples in the fabric of spacetime.

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