For the first time, scientists have directly detected gravitational waves in addition to light, from the spectacular collision of two neutron stars. This marks the first time that a cosmic event has been viewed in both gravitational waves and light. Cornell University physicists and experts, who played a vital role in validating the detection of gravitational waves, can offer an independent analysis on the cosmic event and are available for interviews.
Cornell University physics and astronomy professor Saul Teukolsky has been using supercomputers to solve Einstein’s equations for black hole mergers for much of his career. Teukolsky and the Cornell-founded Simulation of eXtreme Spacetimes (SXS) collaboration group have been calculating and completing a full catalog of theoretical solutions since 2000, when supercomputers first became capable of the task.
“We’ve been very lucky. The first discovery of gravitational waves from colliding neutron stars was also detected as a gamma-ray burst and by a host of other telescopes across the electromagnetic spectrum.
“This is something we only expected to be able to do several years from now. A whole new subfield of astronomy has been opened up.”
Prayush Kumar is a research associate in Cornell University’s Department of Astronomy and the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science.
“This discovery is both exciting and revealing! Binary systems of neutron stars have long been thought to emit both gravitational waves and gamma rays as they merge to form a black hole. The gravitational signal GW170817 is a coincident detection of both forms of energy from such a binary, by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and a host of telescopes around the world.
“Not only is it the first neutron star collision seen by LIGO, it also confirms our expectation of neutron stars being responsible for commonly-seen cosmic gamma-ray bursts.
“We were very fortunate to find a source this close. It allowed us to unravel a long-standing puzzle in astrophysics. Now, we are all excited to see what comes next.”
Lawrence Kidder is a senior research associate in Cornell University’s Department of Astronomy and the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science, and a co-leader of the SXS collaboration.
“The era of multi-messenger astronomy is born. Observations of the merger of two neutron stars via gravitational waves and multiple types of electromagnetic radiation have provided new insights and raised new questions about neutron stars and gamma-ray bursts, as well as enabling new tests of general relativity and cosmology.
“This event illustrates the tremendous potential of gravitational-wave and multi-messenger astronomy.”