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LIGO Livingston Detector Catches Binary Neutron Star Merger, Says Physics Professor
Today, the LIGO Livingston detector and VIRGO detector captured another binary neutron star merger
Stefan Ballmer is an associate professor of physics at Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences. Below, he answers four key questions about the LIGO/VIRGO detection, and what it means for the greater world of physics.
Q: What is most significant about these findings?
Ballmer: “What we are really looking forward to is to get a stronger signal from the collision phase of the two neutron stars. That will tell us how nuclear matter behaves under these extreme conditions.
“This event was a little too far away for that. But it gives us a much better handle on the rate of such collisions. The upshot: if we just observe a little longer we will get the strong signal we are hoping for.”
Q: Can you break down what a binary neutron star merger is?
Ballmer: “A neutron star is an atomic nucleus the size of a city, but with the mass of a sun. We are observing the collision of two of these monsters at about half the speed of light.
“Since neutron stars still are made of matter (unlike black holes), we do expect to be able to see them optically as well, as was the case with GW170817, the first binary neutron star merger observed by LIGO.”
Q: For someone not familiar with the physics world, why is this exciting?
Ballmer: “On a weekly basis we are now observing some of the most violent events in the universe, literally storms in space and time, shredding the remnants of stars. Black holes and neutron stars are no longer exotic hypothetical objects they once were, but the bread and butter of everyday science.
“This is also why the LIGO and Virgo collaborations now put out alerts as quickly as possible, in the hope that other astronomers can make complementary observations.
“In fact, you can download an app that alerts you within minutes whenever we see something interesting.” Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/gravitational-wave-events/id1441897107
Q: How does this tie in or connect with (if at all) with the first black hole image that was released just a short while ago?
Ballmer: “Since the latest run (O3) started we have observed 3 black hole mergers, and this neutron star merger. That brings the total observed in all runs to 13 black hole mergers and 2 neutron star mergers.
“It is amazing that what was considered to be impossible just three and a half years ago – and was worth the 2017 Nobel prize – is now happening weekly.”
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