Date:18 October 2017
Researchers from the South African Astronomical Observatory (SAAO) and the Southern African Large Telescope (SALT) are participating in a global collaborative effort to investigate the origin of the first detection of gravitational waves.
The collaboration comes after a group of astronomers made history last year when they discovered gravitational waves for the first time. Gravitational waves are ripples in the fabric of spacetime. This happens when black holes and neutron stars collide, causing a cataclysmic explosion.
In initial observations only gravitational waves from black hole collisions were observed, but now a detection from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) shows that the collision of neutron stars can also cause gravitational waves. Neutron stars are similar to black holes. Like black holes, neutron stars are formed from the remnants of exploding stars. The biggest difference is that neutron stars are much smaller in size than black holes.
Watch this video for a in-depth explanation of neutron stars and gravitational waves by UCT PhD candidate Itumeleng Monageng and a look at the collaboration by the head of SALT Astronomy Operations, Petri Vaisanen:
In a press release SALT explained they were among the 70 ground-based space observatories world-wide that observed the explosion immediately after their gravitational waves were detected by LIGO in the USA.
Vaisanen, explains of the discovery of gravitational waves: “Imagine you have only one sense. All your life you have merely looked at the world. Two years ago you heard something, voices coming from somewhere around you. But then, suddenly, you actually see someone talking. How much more will you understand about how the world works when you put those together? Immensely more. That to me sums up the momentous discovery, and hints at the possibilities going forward.”
NASA Goddard shows what happens when neuron starts collide:
Still not sure how this works? Watch the video by YouTube channel Veritasum at the very top for more details.
Video credits: Veritasum, NASA Goddard, South African Astronomical Observatory