Artist’s rendition of colliding neutron stars creating gravitational waves and a kilonova. Image: Fermilab

Topics: Astrophysics, Black Holes, Dark Energy, Dark Matter, Nobel Prize, White Dwarfs

(Oct 16) A team of scientists using the Dark Energy Camera (DECam), the primary observing tool of the Dark Energy Survey, was among the first to observe the fiery aftermath of a recently detected burst of gravitational waves, recording images of the first confirmed explosion from two colliding neutron stars ever seen by astronomers.

Scientists on the Dark Energy Survey joined forces with a team of astronomers based at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) for this effort, working with observatories around the world to bolster the original data from DECam. Images taken with DECam captured the flaring-up and fading over time of a kilonova — an explosion similar to a supernova, but on a smaller scale — that occurs when collapsed stars (called neutron stars) crash into each other, creating heavy radioactive elements.

This particular violent merger, which occurred 130 million years ago in a galaxy near our own (NGC 4993), is the source of the gravitational waves detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Virgo collaborations on Aug. 17. This is the fifth source of gravitational waves to be detected — the first one was discovered in September 2015, for which three founding members of the LIGO collaboration were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics two weeks ago.

Scientists spot explosive counterpart of LIGO/Virgo’s latest gravitational waves Andre Salles, Fermilab Office of Communication, asalles@fnal.gov, 630-840-6733

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