Chinese telescope scores a hit

Updated 2017-10-18 09:03:54 Global Times

Global scientists detect gravitational waves in outer space

News of the first optical capture of gravitational waves came on Monday from astronomical research institutes worldwide, including the U.S. NASA and China's Purple Mountain Observatory in Nanjing, and this could help scientists further explore the secrets of the Universe, Chinese scholars said Tuesday.

The capture was a joint effort of more than 70 ground- and space-based telescopes, including the U.S. Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and China's first X-ray astronomical satellite, the news site thepaper.cn reported Monday.

Gravitational wave and electromagnetic phenomena differ from gravitational waves from black holes, by being the product of a binary neutron star merger, Qiao Congfeng, a senior Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) researcher, told the Global Times on Tuesday.

The collision of binary neutron stars is accompanied by electromagnetic phenomena crucial to research on the origin of heavy elements like silver and gold, according to the Purple Mountain Observatory.

This particular gravitational wave capture, thought to be the result of two neutron stars colliding in deep space, was first discovered by LIGO detectors and the Europe-based Virgo detector on August 17, and, Qiao said, is a great moment for scientists as something they have long expected and predicted.

"The gravitational wave offers a new observation method for astronomers, and when combined with traditional approaches, such as optical and electromagnetic waves, more data on the universe's physical process can be discovered," Chen Xuelei, a fellow researcher of CAS' National Astronomical Observatories, told the Global Times.

Chen noted that the outcome is a result of international cooperation, and that China's Kunlun Station in Antarctica contributed to the detection.

The AST3-2 telescope developed by China observed optical signals resulting from the merger the following day, with some 70 telescopes on the ground or in space around the world, China's Center for Antarctic Astronomy said.

Also detecting the wave was China's first Hard X-ray Modulation Telescope, named 'Insight,' only two months after its launch.

That satellite's primary task was to discover physical principles in an extreme gravitational field by detecting X-rays from black holes and neutron stars, according to CAS' Institute of High Energy Physics, but Chinese scientists managed to make it detect gamma-ray bursts and electromagnetic components.

In 2015, LIGO detectors confirmed the existence of gravitational waves produced during the merger of two black holes, which were predicted by Albert Einstein's theory of general relativity, 100 years ago.

LIGO and its partners have discovered four cases of gravitational waves coming from the merger of two black holes and, while these real interstellar actions might not be as dramatic as a science fiction plot, the two have close connections.

This exploration of gravitational waves might help to track down new clues on exotic physical principles, Chen said.

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