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In detecting star collision for first time, astronomers see a new era

An artist's depiction of neutron star merger. Credit: NSF / LIGO / Sonoma State University / A. Simonnet

Scientists announced today they've detected the collision of two neutron stars 130 million years ago. It's the first time one of the massive mergers has been witnessed, and that light detected with telescopes has been combined with gravitational waves detection to observe a cosmic event.

What it means: "This result provides definitive evidence for the first time that heavy elements like platinum and gold, are produced in these collisions," David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory, whose founders will collect the Nobel Prize in physics this year. The so-called "multi-messenger astronomy" allows researchers to view events in both light and sound, and will be used to better understand the structure of stars, the rate of expansion of the universe and other fundamental questions in physics.