The Alpha source for the news of the LIGO Neutron Star collision

The Alpha source for the news of the LIGO Neutron Star collision

Cataclysmic Collision Artist’s illustration of two merging neutron stars. The rippling space-time grid represents gravitational waves that travel out from the collision, while the narrow beams show the bursts of gamma rays that are shot out just seconds after the gravitational waves. Swirling clouds of material ejected from the merging stars are also depicted. The clouds glow with visible and other wavelengths of light. Image credit: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

There has quite appropriately been an abundance of news and excitement regarding the first observation of gravitational-waves from a pair of inspiraling neutron stars. Most media outlets have been covering it, for example …

I don’t intend to do yet another rehash of the news, the journalists within major media outlets are doing a fine job at communicating it all. Instead I’d like to add two specific things to make a very specific and rather interesting point.

  • The alpha source for the media stories: I’ll briefly point you at the primary LIGO press release that the various media outlets used. The various articles are of course fascinating, but often are simply just a rehash of the LIGO press release. So why read the articles when you can instead read their original source.
  • The actual discovery paper.

But the real reason for highlighting the above is to point out that this is a milestone that marks the emergence of “multi-messenger astronomy”. If you are not sure what that means, then read on.

So let’s start with the first – what is the alpha source for all this news?

Press releases

LIGO have an official press release, but beyond that what is rather fascinating are all the “me to” press releases that have been popping up to hitch a ride on this shooting star. The Astronomer Phil Plait rather amusingly notes this …

… as do others …

While the alpha is of course the Caltech LIGO one (dated 16th Oct),  it is important to remember that this is a vast scientific collaboration that spans the globe. Seeing many associated press releases from others is a reflection of this.

LIGO is funded by the NSF, and operated by Caltech and MIT. Financial support for the Advanced LIGO project is not just the US NSF, it has also been funded by other nations. For example, Germany (Max Planck Society), the U.K. (Science and Technology Facilities Council) and Australia (Australian Research Council) made significant commitments and contributions.

More than 1,200 scientists and some 100 institutions from around the world participate in the effort through the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. All the partners involved are listed at http://ligo.org/partners.php

The Virgo collaboration consists of more than 280 physicists and engineers belonging to 20 different European research groups: six from Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in France; eight from the Istituto Nazionale di Fisica Nucleare (INFN) in Italy; two in the Netherlands with Nikhef; the MTA Wigner RCP in Hungary; the POLGRAW group in Poland; Spain with the University of Valencia; and the European Gravitational Observatory, EGO, the laboratory hosting the Virgo detector near Pisa in Italy, funded by CNRS, INFN, and Nikhef.

To translate;  because this is a vast collaboration we should expect to see many press releases. It is a wholly appropriate reflection of that reality.

The Discovery Papers

This is the alpha discovery paper published in APS Physics …

That however is not it. Again, as a reflection of this being a vast scientific collaboration, there are also many related papers as well …

So what am I actually getting at here?

The degree of data sharing and collaboration that is happening here is itself unprecedented and new.

“LIGO and Virgo detected 100 seconds of gravitational waves as these two neutron stars spiraled together in a massive and fiery collision, In a sprawling follow-up campaign involving about one-quarter of the world’s professional astronomers, observatories in space and on the Earth have detected radiation in all wavelengths from gamma rays to radio waves. But the LIGO and Virgo detectors were absolutely essential in identifying and pinpointing the event in the sky, allowing this campaign to proceed”

– LIGO Hanford Observatory (LHO) Head, Michael Landry

The phrase I have underlined and highlighted in the quote above says it all. LIGO is not just the opening up of a new window on the universe, it has also seen the emergence of “multi-messenger astronomy”. This is where data from traditional telescopes, neutrino detectors, and now gravitational wave observatories are shared and compared to glean even deeper insights.

When the Astronomers become excited, then we should also be excited

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