On August 17, 2017, a neutron star collision - one of the rarest events to happen in space - shook the universe with a cataclysmic explosion. Alarming scientists, gamma rays and gravitational waves blasted ultraviolet and infra-red lights.
Neutron stars are the result of stars within a supernovae core collapsing. These stars, which can originally be 10 to 20 times the size of the sun, become smaller and very dense as their protons and electrons merge together to make neutrons. Most neutron stars come in pairs, so they revolve around each other until they collide. These collisions occur fewer than 100 times every million years.
This neutron star collision sent off bursts of gamma rays and gravitational waves.
are lights caused by these violent collisions. Light travels in waves of radiation in different colors. The human field of vision only allows humans to see a certain part of the vast color spectrum. For example, gamma rays blast off ultraviolet and infrared light, which are lights outside the human field of vision. These are observable about 240 times a year, but they only last for a few seconds at a time.
In contrast, gravitational waves, such as the ones blasted from the August collision, cause ripples in space. Scientists can observe them when two black holes collide. These collisions also spur heavy elements like gold, platinum, and lead to scatter.
The LIGO scientific collaboration and Virgo space instruments were the first to notice the collision in August. About 70 other instruments worldwide soon followed suit. Further, the Carnegie Observatories were the first to start analyzing data from the collision. Tony Piro, a theoretical astrophysicist at the Carnegie Observatories, said, “. . . this singular event finally solves all these problems, bringing together all these mysteries at once.”
Scientists are analyzing data from the collision to help measure how fast the universe is expanding. The data also indicates that it is possible for a neutron star collision to create gamma rays, and that gravitational waves and gamma rays can happen simultaneously.
Neutron star collisions are among the rarest phenomena in space. They still leave scientists baffled, while at the same time offering them a lot of new information about space.