Test & Measurement

Another First: LIGO Detects Gravitational Waves Produced by Neutron Star Collision

In a dramatic demonstration of how astrophysics is being transformed by the newfound ability to detect gravitational waves (ripples in the fabric of space-time that are created when massive objects spin around each other and collide), scientists have, for the first time, caught two neutron stars in the act of colliding. In doing so, they may have revealed that these collisions are the source of heavy elements such as gold and platinum - solving a long-standing mystery about the origin of these heavy elements. This marks the first time that a cosmic event has been viewed in both gravitational waves and light. The discovery was a group effort - made using the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), the Europe-based Virgo detector, along with 70 other ground- and space-based observatories. The gravitational signal, named GW170817, was first detected on August 17, 2017, by the two identical LIGO detectors (operated by Caltech  and MIT). In the days following, other forms of light, or electromagnetic radiation - including X-ray, ultraviolet, optical, infrared, and radio waves - were detected.To learn more, read a Tech Briefs Q&A with Brad Cenko, Research Astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.