Major Astronomical Discovery Has Ties to Virginia Tech

Oct 17, 2017

An artist's rendition of two merging neutron stars. The collision creates an explosion known as a kilonova. Earlier this year, astronomers around the globe picked up residual material from a kilonova that occurred around 130 million years ago.
Credit National Science Foundation / LIGO / Sonoma State University / A. Simonnet

Astronomers and astrophysicists alike are abuzz this week over a cosmic event that occurred millions of years ago.

Earlier this week, more than 3,500 authors from around the globe published reports about an exciting discovery that occurred in August.

Instrumentation that spans the entire world picked up on what’s known as a kilonova, an enormous explosion caused by the collision between two small, but incredibly dense celestial bodies called neutron stars.

John Simonetti and his team at Virginia Tech were part of the community of scientists and astronomers that picked up on residual material just now making its way to Earth. It's the aftermath of the collision that occurred around 130 million years ago:

“The work I’ve done is with what is called the long wavelength array, which is an array of radio antennas out in New Mexico that we used to observe this event. Actually, our observations, at least in the radio spectrum, were the earliest observations that were conducted of this event.”

The instruments also picked up on what’s known as a gravitational wave, which in the process confirmed theories made by Albert Einstein years ago.

Simonetti says the discovery will help usher in a new era for celestial scientists known as “multi-messenger astronomy.”

“There’s certainly no reason to just restrict ourselves to one particular set of information – one message from the universe – so, the idea here is to open up the entire window on our universe from all the different means that we can use to try to learn better what’s actually happening out there.”

Simonetti and his team plan to continue scouring through the data in the coming weeks and months while awaiting the next curve ball the universe decides to throw their way.