Do we know this Universe we live in completely? Will we ever know about the secrets of this infinite spacetime? Can there exist ‘another Earth-like planet’ in another galaxy? Could life exist on other planets? Time and again, the human race has been struggling to figure out and define its existence in this Cosmos. Especially since the last century, we have been witnessing major breakthroughs (in the field of astrophysics and cosmology), which are slowly widening our understanding of this mysterious space called the Universe.
Today, there are a number of answers and explanations at our disposal. We know the age of the Universe. We have figured out the beginning of the Universe in the form of the ‘Big Bang theory’. We know the chronology of the journey of the Universe. We are aware of the ‘Dark Matter’ (which is not directly observable), which explains us manifold astronomical phenomena.
Through the theory of general relativity, we know there are black holes there and how they have got formed because of the collapse of the massive stars. There are answers to many questions yet many more questions are yet to be answered.
In this context, the news of scientists detecting gravitational waves coming from the collision of two neutron stars far away (some 130 million years ago) in the Universe is of utmost important.
The cataclysmic crash of neutron stars produced gravitational waves (ripples in the fabric of space) that travelled across the Universe. On August 17, 2017, scientists for the first time witnessed this event. For the very first time, scientists have directly detected gravitational waves and light together (Earlier on 14 September 2015, the universe’s gravitational waves were observed for the very first time from a collision between two black holes).
Neutron stars are the densest stars and they are formed when massive stars explode in supernovas. When these neutron stars spiralled together, they emitted gravitational waves (that were detectable for about 100 seconds) and when they collided, a flash of light too was emitted and it was observed on our planet for about two seconds after the gravitational waves.
This event is unique in many ways. The event of this strength takes place less than once in 80,000 years and that too by random coincidence. With this event, it has also been confirmed that such merger of the stars lead to the production of the gold and platinum that exists in our Universe. Until this discovery, the idea that two colliding stars can cause gravitational waves was just a theory. Today, it’s a reality with groundbreaking potential for astrophysics research.
Our existing telescopes can observe only those objects that emit electromagnetic radiation. Observation of the events like colliding black holes or neutron stars was difficult as they emit gravitational waves. With the encounter of these gravitational waves, it has become possible to draw inferences about the hard-to-detect objects in the Universe.
Today, it has been proved that gravitational waves are an entirely new way of seeking explanations of the events taking place in this Universe. In near future, this discovery and its findings will test the limits of our knowledge for sure.