Scientists might have detected an entirely new kind of gravitational wave.
If true, the discovery could give humanity a very distant look at some of the most devestating and dramatic
, and helped prove some of the most fundamental predictions and understanding of the universe. Scientists have spotted them twice more since – but each time they were provoked by the collision of black holes.
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Now there is speculation that scientists have seen such a wave from somewhere else entirely: two neutron stars crashing into each other and sending ripples spreading across the universe. Such a discovery would be in part important because the waves themselves could be seen in visible wavelengths, allowing scientists to see the light that was sent out by the huge event.
Scientists are now scrambling to collaborate to point observatories towards the galaxy where the signal is believed to have come from, . It appears to be that collaboration – which was set up in advance and involves organisations across the world – that has allowed details of the discovery to become public before the new finding has been announced.
Scientists working on the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, known as LIGO, have suggested that work is going on until the end of this week. But that appears to be about finding the source of the dramatic new finding.
Organisations in the collaboration are thought to be pointing their observations at the galaxy NGC 4993, which is about 130 million lightyears away, according to the New Scientist. There, two neutron stars are gradually dancing towards each other in an event that will see them collide and likely send shockwaves throughout the universe.
J Craig Wheeler, an astronomy professor at the University of Texas Austin, tweeted: “New LIGO. Source with optical counterpart. Blow your sox off!”
Three days before he had tweeted “Rumor of exciting new LIGO source”. He hasn’t tweeted about the discovery since, though has posted a lot about the eclipse and other events.
Some tweeted in response to Professor Wheeler that it was “profoundly uncool to be doing this before the collaboration was announced” and suggested that he was spoiling the announcement, which would be kept quiet and released at a specific time.
Speculation has been piqued by a set of cryptic tweets from astronomers who would probably be involved in any such experiments.
Andy Howell, an astronomer at Las Cumbres University, tweeted a post about how “watching the astronomical observations roll in is better than any story any human has ever told”, but didn’t give any information about what specifically he had spotted.
An announcement is expected by the end of Friday, a statement from LIGO suggested.