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Unlike black-hole mergers, which produce secondslong pulses of low-frequency gravitational waves, the lighter neutron stars produced a telltale higher frequency hum that increased in frequency and strength over 100 seconds. Two seconds later, NASA’s orbiting Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope detected a pulse of gamma rays called a short gamma ray burst. Because the gravitational waves were spotted by three widely spaced detectors, researchers could triangulate the neutron star pair’s location in the sky.Within 11 hours, several teams of optical and infrared astronomers had found a new beacon on the edge of the galaxy NGC 4993.The gravitational waves from the twirling neutron stars tickled not only the enormous LIGO detectors in Hanford, Washington, and Livingston, Louisiana, but also the French-Italian Virgo detector near Pisa, Italy, which, after a 5-year upgrade, had started recording data just 17 days earlier.Researchers immediately knew they were witnessing the death spiral of two neutron stars.However, it’s possible that astrophysicists’ model isn’t quite right and that neutron-star mergers produce only muted gamma ray bursts, Kalogera says.To resolve the issue, astrophysicists need to see more mergers.Over several days, the source faded from bright blue to dimmer red.

The observations bolstered the 25-year-old hypothesis that neutron-star mergers produce short gamma ray bursts.Scientists first detected such waves just 27 months ago, when the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) sensed a space tremor from two massive black holes spiraling together in an invisible cataclysm.The discovery of gravitational waves was ’s 2016 Breakthrough of the Year.They would also like to see the gravitational waves right up to the point at which the neutron stars spiral into each other.In this first observation, the LIGO and Virgo detectors tracked the stars whirling around each other at an accelerating pace, sending out higher and higher frequency gravitational waves.

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