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Discovery Opens New Paths for Astronomy

Two years ago, two facilities of the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected the distortions of space-time produced by the collision of two black holes, effectively discovering the existence of gravitational waves. Just two months ago, LIGO researchers made another astounding discovery, for the first time detecting gravity waves produced by the merger of two neutron stars. Unlike the collision of two black holes, the merger of two neutron stars also produces light and other radiation that astronomers can observe.

Among the thousands of scientists involved in this discovery is a team led by astronomer Ryan Foley at UC Santa Cruz. With support from the Heising-Simons Foundation, Foley’s team captured the first images of the event in a galaxy 130 million light-years away utilizing the 1-meter Swope Telescope at the Carnegie Institution’s Las Campanas Observatory in Chile. These and other observations shed light on the processes that form gold, platinum, and other heavy elements in the universe.

“This is a huge discovery,” Foley said in a statement. “We’re finally connecting these two different ways of looking at the universe, observing the same thing in light and gravitational waves, and for that alone this is a landmark event. It’s like being able to see and hear something at the same time.”

Read a special in-depth report here, and watch a short video that explains the discovery: