- ivy gosh
- Science reporter, BBC News
Astronomers can detect collisions of dead suns known as neutron stars for the first time thanks to a powerful new telescope.
The neutron star collision They are the key to our understanding of the universe.
It is believed that they created the heavy metals that formed stars and planets like us in the past. billions of years.
The light of the shocks can only be seen for a few nights, so the telescope must race to locate them.
Astronomers noticed such a collision in 2017, but discovered it largely by chance.
The UK-built Transient Gravitational-Optical-Wave Observer (GOTO) that sits above the clouds on the volcanic Spanish island of La Palma, now he isawill search s systematically.
“When a really good discovery comes along, everyone starts working to make the most of it,” Professor Danny Stigs of the University of Warwick in La Palma told me.
“Speed is of the essence. We are looking for something that is very short-lived, there is not much time before it fades away,” he added.
Neutron stars are so heavy that a teaspoon of their matter Weight 4000 millions of tons.
The telescope allows astronomers to open one up to see what’s inside.
In order to get a clear view of the sky, the telescope sits atop a mountain, home to dozens of instruments of all shapes and sizes, each studying different phenomena.
When you open their double domes, they reveal two black batteries of eight cylindrical telescopes strapped together, structures much like rocket launchers.
Each battery covers every patch of sky above, rotating rapidly both vertically and horizontally.
Find the exact location
A neutron star is a dead sun that collapsed under its immense weight, smashing the atoms that once made it shine.
They have such a strong attraction that they attract each other. sometimes collide and merge.
When that happens, it creates a flash of light and powerful shock ripples across the universe. This causes everything in the universe, including the atoms within each of us, to vibrate imperceptibly.
The shock wave, called a gravitational wave, deforms space. When it’s detected on Earth, the new telescope gets to work to find the exact location of the flash.
Operators aim to locate it within hours, or even minutes, after the gravitational wave is detected.
They take pictures of the sky and then digitally remove the stars, planets, and galaxies that were there the night before.
Any spot of light that wasn’t there before could collide with neutron stars.
This usually takes days and weeks, but Now it must be done in real time. It is a huge task that is performed using software.
“You might think these outbursts are very energetic, very luminous, and they should be easy, but we have to search 100 million stars for the one thing that interests us,” said astrophysics professor Joe Lyman.
“We have to do it very quickly because the body will be gone in a couple of days,” he said.
Explore the universe
The team is working with other astronomers to study the collision in more detail.
Once the collision is identified, they turn to larger and more powerful telescopes around the world. These collisions appear in more detail and at different wavelengths.
This process “speaks physics at its best,” Lyman said.
The mountaintop brings astronomers a little closer to the stars. With their telescope A new way to observe the universeaccording to GOTO hardware scientist Kendall Ackley.
He said that traditional astronomy was about being lucky.
“Now we are no longer waiting for new discoveries. Instead, we are told where to find them and to discover what is out there in the universe piece by piece,” he concluded.
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