Researchers help identify, study cosmic collision for the first time

Three GW researchers contributed to a scientific breakthrough earlier this year when astrophysicists from across the globe – for the first time – witnessed the clash of two merging dead stars – a collision known as a kilonova, according to a University release Monday.

The phenomenon is a bright, explosive event about 1,000 times brighter than a nova, a star that rapidly increases in brightness, the Washington Post reported.

Chryssa Kouveliotou, a professor of physics who worked on the project, said the discovery is the first time gravitational waves and electromagnetic radiation have been detected from one source.

“With these observations, we put the astrophysical context to the gravitational waves,” she said in the release. “This is a monumental result – the result of the decade.”

Kilonovas had previously been theorized but never witnessed until Aug. 17, when instruments designed detect gravitational waves alerted scientists to the event. Researchers confirmed its occurrence in the weeks following, according to the release, but news broke of the discovery Monday.

Bethany Cobb Kung, an assistant professor of honors and physics, observed the infrared glow from the cosmic event over 10 nights using a telescope in Chile. She was a part of a team that studied the materials released by the kilonova, according to the release.

“Near infrared observations of the event were absolutely critical, because the optical light from the source faded away very quickly, and one of the key signatures of a kilonova is its behavior at infrared wavelengths,” she said in the release.

Alexander van der Horst, an assistant professor of physics, co-authored a paper with Kouveliotou evaluating the light emitted by the event, measuring and interpreting it to better understand its source, according to the release.

“While this particular event did not have a strong polarimetry signal, future observations will be able to pin down the structure of the source with such observations,” he said.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.