Hubble studies source of gravitational waves

October 18, 2017, NASA
On Aug. 17, 2017, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory detected gravitational waves from a neutron star collision. Within 12 hours, observatories had identified the source of the event within the galaxy NGC 4993, shown in this Hubble Space Telescope image, and located an associated stellar flare called a kilonova. Hubble observed that flare of light fade over the course of 6 days, as shown in these observations taken on August 22, 26, and 28 (insets). Credit: NASA, ESA; acknowledgment: A. Levan (U. Warwick), N. Tanvir (U. Leicester), and A. Fruchter and O. Fox (STScI)

On Aug. 17, 2017, weak ripples in the fabric of space-time known as gravitational waves washed over Earth. Unlike previously detected gravitational waves, these were accompanied by light, allowing astronomers to pinpoint the source. NASA's Hubble Space Telescope turned its powerful gaze onto the new beacon, obtaining both images and spectra. The resulting data will help reveal details of the titanic collision that created the gravitational waves, and its aftermath.

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected at 8:41 a.m. EDT on Aug. 17. Two seconds later, NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope measured a short pulse of gamma rays known as a gamma-ray burst. Many observatories, including space telescopes, probed the suspected location of the source, and within about 12 hours several spotted their quarry.

In a distant galaxy called NGC 4993, about 130 million light-years from Earth, a point of light shone where nothing had been before. It was about a thousand times brighter than a variety of stellar flare called a nova, putting it in a class of objects astronomers call "kilonovae." It also faded noticeably over six days of Hubble observations.

"This appears to be the trifecta for which the astronomical community has been waiting: Gravitational waves, a gamma-ray burst and a kilonova all happening together," said Ori Fox, of the Space Telescope Science Institute in Baltimore.

The source of all three was the collision of two neutron , the aged remains of a binary star system. A neutron star forms when the core of a dying massive star collapses, a process so violent that it crushes protons and electrons together to form subatomic particles called neutrons. The result is like a giant atomic nucleus, cramming several Suns' worth of material into a ball just a few miles across.

In NGC 4993, two neutron stars once spiraled around each other at blinding speed. As they drew closer together, they whirled even faster, spinning as fast as a blender near the end. Powerful tidal forces ripped off huge chunks while the remainder collided and merged, forming a larger neutron star or perhaps a black hole. Leftovers spewed out into space. Freed from the crushing pressure, neutrons turned back into protons and electrons, forming a variety of chemical elements heavier than iron.

"We think neutron star collisions are a source of all kinds of heavy elements, from the gold in our jewelry to the plutonium that powers spacecraft, power plants and bombs," said Andy Fruchter, of the Space Telescope Science Institute.

On Aug. 17, 2017, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory detected gravitational waves from a neutron star collision. Within 12 hours, observatories had identified the source of the event within the galaxy NGC 4993, shown in this Hubble Space Telescope image, and located an associated stellar flare called a kilonova (box). Inset: Hubble observed the kilonova fade over the course of six days. Credit: NASA and ESA

Several teams of scientists are using Hubble's suite of cameras and spectrographs to study the gravitational wave source. Fruchter, Fox and their colleagues used Hubble to obtain a spectrum of the object in . By splitting the light of the source into a rainbow spectrum, astronomers can probe the chemical elements that are present. The spectrum showed several broad bumps and wiggles that signal the formation of some of the heaviest elements in nature.

"The spectrum looked exactly like how theoretical physicists had predicted the outcome of the merger of two neutron stars would appear. It tied this object to the gravitational wave source beyond all reasonable doubt," said Andrew Levan of the University of Warwick in Coventry, England, who led one of the proposals for Hubble spectral observations. Additional spectral observations were led by NialTanvir of the University of Leicester, England.

Spectral lines can be used as fingerprints to identify individual elements. However, this spectrum is proving a challenge to interpret.

"Beyond the fact that two neutron stars flung a lot of matter out into space, we're not yet sure what else the spectrum is telling us," explained Fruchter. "Because the material is moving so fast, the spectral lines are smeared out. Also, there are all kinds of unusual isotopes, many of which are short-lived and undergo radioactive decay. The good news is that it's an exquisite spectrum, so we have a lot of data to work with and analyze."

Hubble also picked up visible light from the event that gradually faded over the course of several days. Astronomers believe that this light came from a powerful "wind" of material speeding outward. These observations hint that astronomers viewed the collision from above the orbital plane of the . If seen from the side (along the orbital plane), matter ejected during the merger would have obscured the visible light and only infrared light would be visible.

"What we see from a kilonova might depend on our viewing angle. The same type of event would appear different depending on whether we're looking at it face-on or edge-on, which came as a total surprise to us," said Eleonora Troja of the University of Maryland, College Park, and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. Troja is also a principal investigator of a team using Hubble observations to study the object.

The gravitational wave source now is too close to the Sun on the sky for Hubble and other observatories to study. It will come back into view in November. Until then, astronomers will be working diligently to learn all they can about this unique event.

The launch of NASA's James Webb Space Telescope also will offer an opportunity to examine the infrared light from the source, should that glow remain detectable in the months and years to come.

Explore further: Gold origin confirmed with first ever gravitational wave sighting

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Tuxford
1.8 / 5 (10) Oct 18, 2017
"We think neutron star collisions are a source of all kinds of heavy elements, from the gold in our jewelry to the plutonium that powers spacecraft, power plants and bombs,"

Thinking is really dangerous for committed merger maniacs. It only leads them further down the path of the Huge Bang Fantasy.

More likely the more common source of the heavy elements is the galactic core star itself, ejecting new matter including heavy elements therefrom, either periodically, or more frequently as it grows from within larger and more massive, eventually becoming a quasar.

After all, how many neutron star collisions would it take to populate the universe with so much heavy metal. And how long would it take to distribute that material widely. Isn't more logical that a more common source is the answer? That would be the central supermassive core star common to most all galaxies of any significant size. But then, that idea is impossible for the committed merger maniac to propose.
Da Schneib
3.8 / 5 (9) Oct 18, 2017
@Tux, geez dude, EUdiot much? They measured spectra, if you claim you got a hyperlight ship to go check it out personally or communications from ET that tell you it's not feel free and don't be surprised if we all laugh at you. More likely the source of the heavy elements is the neutron star merger duhhh ummm.

It's not like we can detect neutron stars if they're not hanging out in gas clouds in SNe remnants. Maybe you forgot that most big SNe result in neutron stars and stars over 1.4 M☉ make SNe. Lots of candidates out there. #physicscrankscantcount
dfjohnsonphd
1 / 5 (1) Oct 18, 2017
"Logical answers" are often nebulous.The term "logic" is often flexible, and sometimes based on supposition to suite a need. The term "factual answers" is preferred, as they are based on empirical observations. What is logical to you may be illogical to others. Facts are not open to debate, if they are "real" facts.

The galactic core black hole could certainly be cranking out heavy metals. But the metals they detected in the kilonova were not gold etc, they were heavier metal elements (above iron) whose formation is endothermic. They did not observe spectra from gold. They are basing this gold observation on the spectra they did see, which were metals heavier than iron. We need more data for the gold claim. There have been billions of type II core collapse supernovas since this galaxy formed. That was the original "logical" source for elements heavier than iron.

We are supposed to made up of star dust. Now we are also made up of gravitational merger dust I suppose......
Tuxford
1 / 5 (7) Oct 18, 2017
And an immediate reaction from perhaps a witting or unwitting (worse) NSA troll. I get this a lot, since they own this site in order to steer the gullible science types into sustained fantasizing. The real physics must remain classified, and this type of counter-intuitive reasoning is thereby dangerous to national security. That is why I do not discuss electro-gravitics.
dfjohnsonphd
5 / 5 (7) Oct 18, 2017
The real physics remains classified? So that is why it is conducted by thousands of Ph.D.s with zero security clearance. At least there is something to laugh about on this site. How could the physics of a distant cosmic scale event, something our science could never accomplish in a billion years, need to be classified? That is so funny! Thanks.........
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (5) Oct 18, 2017
I'd be pretty hesitant to say that if we see iron and things heavier than iron there wasn't any gold. Particularly in a gravitational interaction; one would expect a normal distribution provided there was sufficient energy density to pass the bottom of the packing fraction curve (iron) in the first place. This isn't "logic," it's known phyics, and claiming that something that can create iron and things beyond it can't create gold would require hitherto unknown physics. I don't see any basis for this assertion contradicting known physics. If we're talking about logic, I'll take what we know over what we don't anytime.

I also don't think that indicates anything about the BH at the center of the galaxy; this is a neutron star merger, not anything to do with BHs or galactic cores.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (4) Oct 18, 2017
LOL, I will treasure being called an "NSA Troll." BTW,

a) the NSA contractors are apparently stupid enough to install Russian antivirus software and then install a bunch of NSA hacks on their computers and let said AV software report on it to the cloud, so I kinda doubt we got first rank astrophysicists working there, and
b) amusing to think that professional astrophysicists would eschew professional accolades for the NSA

Teh stupid, it burnz
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (4) Oct 18, 2017
Moving right along, worthy of note on the #physicscrankscantcount hashtag subject, this particular event was 130 million light years away whereas the BH inspirals have all been billions to tens of billions of light years away. So, basically millions = billions; like I said, #physicscrankscantcount.
dfjohnsonphd
3 / 5 (2) Oct 18, 2017
Da Schneib, so much of science PR is hyped to get the average Joe to help pay for some bone-headed projects, and some good ones. The outflows from the BH at the center of many galaxies is likely to result from extreme pressures, which is why you get relativistic jets of matter streaming out. Something of enormous energy is going on there. I don't have a problem with gold being produced in gravitational mergers, but now they are suggesting that most of all those heavy metals were produced in mergers, as opposed to alternatives. Spectral outputs from Type II supernova indicates all elements above iron are being created. We don't have that spectra with the "kilonova". Might get it, but it ain't there right now. All that gold being created - they even predicted the amount!! Proofs are always better than speculations.

And the NSA contractors were just getting ready for Presidunce Chump.

I will take fact over logic anytime. And what we don't know could be a lot more than we do...
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Oct 18, 2017
@johnson, "boneheaded" projects are the ones where we find out, well, yeah, we thought we knew how that all works but it turns out we missed these fine details that turn out to be a Nobel Prize in Physics. This is how science works. Until we look we really don't know for sure. Lotta places we ain't looked yet in detail.

But that doesn't change whether we take known physics vs. unknown physics as a priori assumptions. If you wanna talk logic.

What they're proposing specifically is that heavy metals get produced in neutron star mergers, not anything to do with black holes. Let's try to keep our hypotheses accurate here.

Incidentally you may refer to me as @schneib without insulting me in my view.
dfjohnsonphd
5 / 5 (2) Oct 18, 2017
Da Schneib, many bone-headed projects have been funded which should not have been. I know, have tried to stop many of them. Most yield nothing of any value, except how to make a costly instrument that gave nothing back because the science on which it was based was faulty. A lot of people out there trying to prove negatives. Not a good way to do science.

Too many entries into the "Journal of Irreproducible Results". Need a whole library for that one.

Others have noted the connection to black holes and nucleosynthesis. All related to extreme pressures. Not off topic, actually.
Da Schneib
4.3 / 5 (4) Oct 18, 2017
@johnson, checking results by other means is not "boneheaded." It's real science.

On Earth.

Meanwhile pretending neutron star mergers are the same as BH mergers is Bad Astrophysics. And if you think I meant to refer to the book Bad Astronomy you would be correct.
dfjohnsonphd
5 / 5 (2) Oct 18, 2017
Clearly we have not defined boneheaded. It is a form of thinking for which no reasonable information can be deduced. One cannot "check" all data. There are not a lot of ways to "check" the mass of a black hole. There are not a lot of ways to sequence a human genome. Sadly, there are limits to what we can do. Often there is a bit of guess work involved which might lead somewhere.

Cosmology has that inherent flaw, like people who don't understand how real science is done. Clearly you are right that getting results by other means is indeed real science. This can either help to confirm or debunk existing notions. How it is done and interpreted is not always optimally achieved. That is where the real scientists shine. Data interpretation is the one area of science that results in so many faulty conclusions.
dfjohnsonphd
5 / 5 (1) Oct 18, 2017
Off topic, @schneib, you noted that some black hole mergers were "tens of billions of light years away". Was this a simple error in magnitude or do you have an issue with the Big Bang and are you playing with the the Horizon Paradox? I have been looking at this paradox for a while, and it beginning to consume me. Are you familiar with this story and what is your take?
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (2) Oct 18, 2017
Well, that depends on whether you mean the locations of the mergers in current time or in coordinate time. What we see now is only a maximum of 13.6 bly away but by now it's really up to 40 bly away. So choose your coordinates.

I prolly don't call the Horizon Paradox what you do. Explain it and maybe I'll recognize it.

Sorry for answering your posts in opposite order; how about you define boneheaded in a bit more concrete terms. I expect you'll pick an extreme; I'll prolly grant it, so let's move to the ones where you think we might disagree on what's boneheaded and save a lot of time.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Oct 18, 2017
To be more clear, when choosing your coordinates you need to decide whether you are using proper distance, i.e. the distance things actually are from us right now, or comoving distance, the distance we see things at here on Earth right now.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (3) Oct 18, 2017
To be yet more clear, when choosing your coordinates you need to decide whether you are using proper distance, i.e. the distance things actually are from us right now, or comoving distance, the distance we see things at here on Earth right now. The two are different due to universal expansion. In turn we define proper time and coordinate time but these don't quite align with proper and comoving distance; they are dependent upon relativity, not on universal expansion. But the concepts are similar.

Currently I generally talk about LCDM cosmology, but I am watching closely as various proposals having to do with expansion occurring in cosmic voids but not among cosmic filaments develop. I think this isn't decided yet based on the evidence. I'm virtually certain about the Big Bang and fairly certain about inflation, and again virtually certain about dark matter. Dark energy, that's what I'm leaning back and forth on.
dfjohnsonphd
2.3 / 5 (3) Oct 19, 2017
@schneib, the horizon paradox is defined by the rate of recession of the most distant objects. As they are moving away from us at over 99+% C, some have posited that there are objects beyond these, which we will never see because the light will never reach us. The Webb will see further back, but doesn't do magic. If the light hasn't, and never will, had time to reach us, we could never know the "true" nature and extent of the universe. (might not anyway!) Not to worry, humans are severely limited - this just proves the point.

Kinda throws a wrench into Big Bang theory. As a biochemist, this is a tad out of my field, but still very interesting. Dark matter almost certain, dark energy is perhaps a bridge too far.
shavera
5 / 5 (3) Oct 19, 2017
Kinda throws a wrench into Big Bang theory

Not particularly. It just means we have a limited set of the universe as a whole from which to make extrapolations. The cosmological assumption that must be assumed and not proved, is that the universe is pretty much the same everywhere, and so our neck of the woods is pretty much the same as everywhere else, so extrapolating from our data should be valid to describe observations we can't make.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Oct 19, 2017
@johnson, hmmmm, gotta go with @shavy here.

You're actually speaking of two problems in BBT both of which are solved by inflation: the horizon problem, and the domain walls problem.

I should also caution you that because of considerations of consistency, we can tell that there has to be spacetime beyond that we can directly observe which has the same characteristics as the spacetime we can directly observe. This is because the effects of, for example, an abrupt "edge" to the universe, would make themselves apparent within the observable universe despite being beyond it. We can therefore state that the universe has a minimum size that is greater than the observable universe, although we cannot assign a maximum size for it. This minimum size is, according to multiple sources, a radius of about 50 billion light years, of which about 40 billion is within the observable universe.
[contd]
Da Schneib
not rated yet Oct 19, 2017
[contd]
These are of course proper distances; at the times we can see currently here on Earth, this equates to 13.6 billion light years of comoving distance, which is the time corresponding to the age of the universe, and furthermore our views of the most distant parts even of this are constrained by the period after the Big Bang but before the surface of last scattering of the CMBR commonly referred to as the "dark ages" because photons cannot propagate until the IGM has been ionized and stops scattering them.

We therefore emerge with a picture in which we can see a universe with a true observable size of some 60-70 billion light years' diameter, a theoretical observable size of 80 billion light years' diameter, and a minimum size of 100 billion light years' diameter, all proper distances, and a comoving distance of 13.6 billion light years. Due to the difference between proper and comoving distances all of these come out to much the same comoving distance.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Oct 19, 2017
@johnson, given these constraints, I'm not quite sure of your reasoning for all of this causing problems with LCDM. The one problem you have found looks like it was solved by the introduction of inflation in the 1970s. Can you be more specific?

I also haven't heard from you on what exactly you have in mind for a definition of "boneheaded" problems you think we are wasting time on, unless it's due to the horizon and domain walls problems which as I say form substantial evidence favoring inflation.
dfjohnsonphd
not rated yet Oct 19, 2017
@schneib, this all sounds just a tad on the speculative side. That would of course be the nature of cosmological science from our limited point of view, i.e. earth. I understand the co-moving stuff and all, but (e.g.) many aspects of inflation are criticized by some pretty heavy hitters. They say nasty things like Penrose: "inflation isn't falsifiable, it's falsified. […] BICEP did a wonderful service by bringing all the Inflation-ists out of their shell, and giving them a black eye." Paul Steinhardt, one of the founding fathers of inflationary cosmology, has recently become one of its sharpest critics. Not being an expert in the field, I tend to gravitate to the nay-sayers of speculative science like inflation where no empirical data can be obtained. I have it easy working with biopolymers. Can hold them in my hand even! You guys have to do a lot of day-dreaming without support for some of this stuff. Under such conditions, drawing grand conclusions is a bit touchy.
dfjohnsonphd
1 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2017
The term was actually boneheaded projects, and is a much longer list than the rational ones. But I will give you some examples. Not all are scientific. Check out the Zumwalt-class destroyer, a stealth warship that costs about $4 billion per. It has no useful value over any other ship other than that it makes General Dynamics etc. a lot of money. This is more of an obvious example. A better one is nuclear power plants in general. They are the most ghastly, boneheaded notion every foisted on an unsuspecting world. Even if there are no more accidents, a very BIG if, there is no place to store the vast radioactive waste that is deadly for longer than we will be around. Colonizing the Moon, or Mars, gets into the All-Time, Grand-Champion Hall-of-Fame of boneheaded ideas. We live on a planet in rapid collapse for living organisms and they want to spend a trillion dollars to send people to Mars. Most people, when confronted by the reality of returns vs. cost, should have a problem with that.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2017
@johnson, the way to remove things from the speculative side either by confirming or denying them is by research directed to do exactly that, which is worth funding unless one likes uncertainty in order to make FUD. I therefore don't see astrophysical or cosmological research as wasted time or money. You have agreed this is valid science.

The supposed "heavy hitters" you mention are a minority, but this is the research needed to confirm or deny their criticisms. I cannot see any reason to deny the research or the money and time for it unless you think they are not actually heavy hitters. Personally I think their criticisms need to be addressed. And personally I think that can only be done by spending the time and money.

As a non-professional but very experienced amateur I tend to gravitate to the majority view. I'd like to ask you if you think the majority view is "day dreaming." Be careful because this is a conspiracy theory IMV.
dfjohnsonphd
not rated yet Oct 19, 2017
@schneib, don't think for a minute I am ridiculing your positions. The world is full of scientific quacks, but cosmologists definitely have the toughest slog in our hunt for verifiable data in all of the sciences. Of course much of this has to do with my perspective working with touchy-feely things. You are by our supremely infinitesimally small nature severely handicapped going into that field. But you knew that when you signed up, and I am sure you are not crying about it. It just seems that every time I open up Science or Nature, there is a new idea about parallel universes, strings, or primordial black holes, etc. it all seems so endlessly speculative. And maybe it is, and should be. That would actually be good since what would we do if we figured it all out? Actually, I choose a science more for fun and making a living. Not a lot of high paying jobs in your field. Who wants to pay big money for a bunch of wild speculations?
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2017
@johnson you claimed "no empirical data can be obtained." In fact empirical data is being obtained, specifically by the research documented in this article and in the underlying paper. Perhaps you would wish to reconsider this statement.

None of the items you listed as "boneheaded" have anything to do with cosmology or astrophysics yet you appear to have classed astrophysical and cosmological research in with them without scrutiny or skeptical analysis. I suggest that this is not skeptical at all but more conspiracy theory. Perhaps you can enunciate some reason for a different conclusion.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Oct 19, 2017
@johnson my field is computer science. I am not by any means underpaid and receive not only significant and acceptable remuneration but also incentive stock options which will eventually make me rich as most people define it if I can make my company's products successful.

I am watching the sciences with speculative but not personal interest. I'm glad there are people who do not insist on appropriate financial benefits but I am not one of them.

Just for the record.
dfjohnsonphd
not rated yet Oct 19, 2017
Before the date rolls in, it is often a fine line between the cost of a project and the return. But as I always tell lay people - you never know where knowledge will lead, but you can be certain where the lack of it will get you.

You are certainly doing well as an amateur then. I think there is a lot of favoritism in funding science, like many things, a serious human flaw that is too wasteful. No doubt we need to fund large scale projects for space research. But the speculative nature of so much of the theories and the limited funding makes it tough to decide what to buy in to. LIGO was clearly worth its cost and then some. A lot of naysayers tried to kill that one. This is one that will get a lot more.

What do you see as critical future projects that are under review?
dfjohnsonphd
1 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2017
@schneib, you cannot get empirical data from the Big Bang's first moments, which is defined as femtoseconds to some millions of years. It is quite impossible. Funding instruments suggested for trying to obtain such data would be defined as boneheaded, and almost certainly in the Hall-of-Fame.

Just for the record.

I would ask, nay plead, that you do not attempt to bombard me with speculative aspects that will try to convince me otherwise.
Da Schneib
5 / 5 (1) Oct 19, 2017
@johnson, no data will roll in without research you claim is "boneheaded."

Your claims are inconsistent.
dfjohnsonphd
not rated yet Oct 19, 2017
Boneheaded projects, proposals, etc were not limited to cosmology in my initial use of the term. You have morphed this one. I used this term long ago to define idiotic expenditures on anything related to any science. And the three items I quoted are dripping with science. Stealth tech, nuke plants and over-the-top trips into outer space have science as their mother, father and in-laws.
dfjohnsonphd
not rated yet Oct 19, 2017
Only useful data is of significance to me. Boneheaded projects do not provide such data. That is why they have earned the title.

You seem to be stuck in some kind of bone warp. Perhaps we should discontinue this topic.
Da Schneib
not rated yet Oct 19, 2017
@johnson this thread is about cosmology. Seems to me that kinda limits the subject.

On Earth.
baudrunner
not rated yet Nov 06, 2017
Unlike previously detected gravitational waves, these were accompanied by light, allowing astronomers to pinpoint the source.
There's the actual proof that shock waves travel faster than light. I recall that a disturbance detected some time ago was dismissed because the researchers could not attach an event to it (that's shoddy science, by the way). There are multiple shock waves emanating from a major cosmic event, that was no doubt the initial bow wave, subsequently followed much later by another shock wave accompanied by the light, which are the shock waves of that particular event that travel at about light speed. Ripples in space time can not be detected because the detector itself ripples right along with those "gravitational wave" fluctuations, as does the reality of the observers. Gravity "waves" do not exist.

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