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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.

What they saw: 130 million years ago, two dense neutron stars — with masses 1.6 and 1.1 times those of our sun crammed into about 10-mile-wide spaces — merged. The highly energetic event sent ripples across space and time that physicists working with the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo detectors observed on Aug. 17, 2017. The collision, which occurred relatively close to Earth, released high-energy, gamma-ray light that was also then seen by 70 optical, X-ray, radio, ultraviolet, infrared, and gamma-ray telescopes around the world and in space over the following days.

What's next: Dozens of papers are being published today by the more than 3500 researchers involved in the work. The LIGO and Virgo detectors have finished their current run and will be offline for a year while researchers try to optimize them. "[They are] currently working at a fraction of their sensitivity. We expect to increase the overall network sensitivity by about a factor of 2," said LIGO spokesperson David Shoemaker. That would open up 8 times more space for surveying and, they hope, observing other events like supernovae.

Go deeper: Quanta's Katia Moskvitch has the play-by-play of the detection.

Go deeper

Texas AG sues Biden administration over deportation freeze

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton speaks to members of the media in 2016. Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is suing the Biden administration in federal district court over its 100-day freeze on deporting unauthorized immigrants, and he's asking for a temporary restraining order.

Between the lines: The freeze went into effect Friday, temporarily halting most immigration enforcement in the U.S. In the lawsuit, Paxton claims the move "violates the U.S. Constitution, federal immigration and administrative law, and a contractual agreement between Texas" and the Department of Homeland Security.

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
1 hour ago - Podcasts

Carbon Health's CEO on unsticking the vaccine bottleneck

President Biden has said that getting Americans vaccinated for COVID-19 is his administration’s top priority given an initial rollout plagued by organizational, logistical and technical glitches.

Axios Re:Cap digs into the bottlenecks and how to unclog them with Carbon Health chief executive Eren Bali, whose company recently began helping to manage vaccinations in Los Angeles.

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