In case you have not heard it, LIGO or the gravitational wave observatory of the laser interferometer is a great thing. Earlier this year, this technology allowed researchers to detect two neutron stars circulating among themselves before colliding more than 130 million light-years away. This first observation on Earth of the fusion of two neutron stars was named Revista del año 2017 by Science .
"The amount of information we have been able to extract from an event leaves me speechless," said Laura Cadonati, physicist at the Georgia Institute of Technology and a spokeswoman for LIGO Science Magazine .
If you have read the ad or one of the many stories about it, you may be wondering: What is LIGO and why do we care?
LIGO is the largest gravitational wave observatory in the world and the "physics experiment". As CalTech says, unlike optical or radio telescopes, LIGO is "blind" to visible light and the rest of the electromagnetic spectrum. It "matters" to detect gravitational waves that, unlike physical light, are not part of the electromagnetic spectrum. The LIGO "observatory" is made up of twin sites in Louisiana and Washington, according to CalTech.
As to why we care, LIGO was behind the biggest discoveries in physics this year: the first complete observation of a collision of two neutron stars. A neutron star, as it says Science is "an almost pure neutron ball, the densest matter that exists". LIGO had headed the headlines to help detect the gravitational waves of black holes.
Last summer, as Newsweek had previously reported, "The 100-second signal" of the collision "arrived at 8:41 am ET on August 17, only three days after that the machines detected their fourth collision of black holes, four days before a total solar eclipse swept America and eight days before LIGO shut down to begin a year of improvements. "
The event, which took place at more than 130 millions of light-years away, it emitted signals that reached all the way to Earth, and the researchers were able to detect them. Gravitational wave detectors are located in the state of Washington, Louisiana and Europe. All three were involved in the observation of the neutron star.
Shortly (as in, seconds) after that, as reported Science NASA's gamma-ray space telescope detected a pulse of gamma rays from the same source. This provided the opportunity for researchers to collect a second type of data about the event, which was soon joined by a third party: light. After looking a bit, the researchers captured a photograph of a kilonova, the explosion caused by a collision of two neutron stars, for the first time.
Thousands of researchers from hundreds of universities and institutions examined the event, which Science called the "most studied … in the history of astronomy."
As Science wrote, the merger of the two stars has provided a treasure trove of information for physicists, and helped confirm key models in the field.