An artist’s impression of two neutron stars colliding. Image Credit: ESO / L. Calcada /M. Kornmesser
The groundbreaking achievement, which was revealed today at the European Southern Observatory’s Headquarters in Garching, Germany, signals the beginning of a whole new era of astronomy.
When the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Washington picked up a signal back in August, dozens of telescopes and observatories across the planet turned their gaze towards its source in the constellation Hydra.
This major collaborative effort resulted in both light and gravitational waves being detected from the same event – a cataclysmic collision between two neutron stars 130 million light years away.
“I don’t think it’s out of the question that this is the most observed astronomical event ever,” said LIGO spokesperson David Shoemaker. “It’s a thrilling notion, and a little overwhelming.”
“We’ve got somewhere between a quarter and a third of all the world’s astronomers working with us.”
What this all means is that it is now possible to observe major astronomical events by first picking up the gravitational waves and then using that information to tell conventional telescopes where to look.
Suffice to say, the possibilities for new discoveries are endless.
“Superlatives fail,” said LIGO scientist Richard O’Shaughnessy. “This is a transformation in the way that we’re going to do astronomy. It’s fantastic.”