Gravitational Astronomy? How Detecting Gravitational Waves Changes Everything
We’ve now had multiple detections of gravitational waves, opening up a whole new field: gravitational astronomy. We talk about the detections made so far, and how we can see the Universe in a whole new way. Support us at: http://www.patreon.com/universetoday
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Just a couple of weeks ago, astronomers from Caltech announced their third detection of gravitational waves from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or LIGO. As with the previous two detections, astronomers have determined that the waves were generated when two intermediate-mass black holes slammed into each other, sending out ripples of distorted spacetime. One black hole had 31.2 times the mass of the Sun, while the other had 19.4 solar masses. The two spiraled inward towards each other, until they merged into a single black hole with 48.7 solar masses. And if you do the math, twice the mass of the Sun was converted into gravitational waves as the black holes merged. These gravitational waves traveled outward from the colossal collision at the speed of light, stretching and compressing spacetime like a tsunami wave crossing the ocean until they reached Earth, located about 2.9 billion light-years away. The waves swept past each of the two LIGO facilities, located in different parts of the United States, stretching the length of carefully calibrated laser measurements. And from this, researchers were able to detect the direction, distance and strength of the original merger. Seriously, if this isn’t one of the coolest things you’ve ever heard, I’m clearly easily impressed. Now that the third detection has been made, I think it’s safe to say we’re entering a brand new field of gravitational astronomy. In the coming decades, astronomers will use gravitational waves to peer into regions they could never see before. Being able to perceive gravitational waves is like getting a whole new sense. It’s like having eyes and then suddenly getting the ability to perceive sound. This whole new science will take decades to unlock, and we’re just getting started. As Einstein predicted, any mass moving through space generates ripples in spacetime. When you’re just walking along, you’re actually generating tiny ripples. If you can detect these ripples, you can work backwards to figure out what size of mass made the ripples, what direction it was moving, etc. Even in places that you couldn’t see in any other way. Let me give you a couple of examples. Black holes, obviously, are the low hanging fruit. When they’re not actively feeding, they’re completely invisible, only detectable by how they gravitational attract objects or bend light from objects passing behind them. But seen in gravitational waves, they’re like ships moving across the ocean, leaving ripples of distorted spacetime behind them. With our current capabilities through LIGO, astronomers can only detect the most massive objects moving at a significant portion of the speed of light. A regular black hole merger doesn’t do the trick - there’s not enough mass. Even a supermassive black hole merger isn’t detectable yet because these mergers seem to happen too slowly. This is why all the detections so far have been intermediate-mass black holes with dozens of times the mass of our Sun. And we can only detect them at the moment that they’re merging together, when they’re generating the most intense gravitational waves. If we can boost the sensitivity of our gravitational wave detectors, we should be able to spot mergers of less and more massive black holes. But merging isn’t the only thing they do. Black holes are born when stars with many more times the mass of our Sun collapse in on themselves and explode as supernovae. Some stars, we’ve now learned just implode as black holes, never generating the supernovae, so this process happens entirely hidden from us. Is there a singularity at the center of a black hole event horizon, or is there something there, some kind of object smaller than a neutron star, but bigger than an infinitely small point? As black holes merge together, we could see beyond the event horizon with gravitational waves, mapping out the invisible region within to get a sense of what’s going on down there. We want to know about even less massive objects like neutron stars, which can also form from a supernova explosion. These neutron stars can orbit one another and merge generating some of the most powerful explosions in the Universe: gamma ray bursts. But do neutron stars have surface features? Different densities? Could we detect a wobble in the gravitational waves in the last moments before a merger?
Death From Space — Gamma-Ray Bursts Explained
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De-orbit of the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory
Video taken of CGRO over the Pacific Ocean during de-orbit maneuvers in June 2000. The spacecraft is seen to start tumbling as it plunges into the atmosphere.
SPACE: NASA RECORD GAMMA RAY BURST
(28 Jan 1999) Natural Sound For the first time, astronomers have recorded visible light from the source of a gamma ray burst, an eruption more powerful than the energy of 10 (m) million (b) billion stars. The images were captured by the Robotic Optical Transient Search Experiment (ROTSE) in New Mexico. The gamma ray burst was detected on Saturday morning by two orbiting observatories. News of the event was relayed through a network to astronomers. Ground-based telescopes were able to capture optical light from the fading afterglow that followed the 110-second peak of the burst. Gamma ray bursts are common, happening several times a week. But they come and go so swiftly that astronomers have never before been able to link optical observations with the gamma ray detection. Officials said the stellar eruption originated about 10 (b) billion light years away but was so powerful in visible light that it could have been sighted from the ground with binoculars if, by chance, someone had been looking. The gamma ray burst phenomenon was discovered in 1967, but the bursts remain mysterious. They occur randomly across the sky several hundred times a year, with the peak of each burst lasting from a few milliseconds to a few minutes. Astronomers do not know their origin or precise cause. Some speculate that bursts originate from black holes. Since gamma rays are invisible to the eye, the eruptions were unknown until the development of gamma ray detectors. Saturday's burst was detected by NASA's Compton Gamma Ray Observatory and by the Italian-Dutch satellite BeppoSAX. Both satellite observatories regularly monitor the sky in search of such stellar events. Based on the measured intensities of the light and the gamma rays, experts estimate energy released from the explosion could have been equal to the energy of 10 million (b) billion stars like the sun. Find out more about AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/HowWeWork
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USA/SPACE: NASA: COMPTON GAMMA RAY OBSERVATORY
(3 Jun 2000) English/Nat
It's a satellite many of us didn't even know existed, but to NASA, the information uncovered by the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory is priceless. Despite this, NASA is set to send its successful mission to certain death on Sunday the 4th of June, in the name of public safety. The Compton Gamma Ray Observatory was launched aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis in April 1991. For nine years, Compton has hovered in orbit, reliably scanning the galaxy for gamma rays. Gamma rays are a powerful, yet invisible form of energy which can travel vast distances in space at the speed of light without being changed. Astronomers believe these rays may hold clues to many things, including the processes involved in the creation of the elements. SOUNDBITE: (English)
"It tells us about things in the Cosmos where the most energetic things are going on: quasars, black holes, pulsars, high energy cosmic rays...Things that tend to be of high energy and high temperature."
SUPER CAPTION: Dr Alan Bunner, NASA Science Programme Director During its nine years in space, Compton had tremendous successes. In 1997, it thrilled scientists when it detected a blast of gamma rays that was 12 billion years old. But, the observatory ran into problems last year, when one of the spacecraft's controlling devices - called a gyroscope - failed. The craft needs two gyroscopes to operate, so the failure left the satellite with no backup, and NASA a little nervous. SOUNDBITE: (English)
"The gyroscopes are one of the devices that help keep the spacecraft stabilised. And that left us just one step away from not being able to do a controlled re-entry, and so we realised at that point that we had to scurry and find a way to safely and reliably bring GRO to ground."
SUPER CAPTION: Dr Alan Bunner, NASA Science Programme Director Unlike most satellites, Compton is too large to burn up entirely in the atmosphere. More than six tons of metal debris is expected to fall to the Earth's surface, ranging in size from tiny fragments to several hundred pounds. To ensure public safety, NASA said it had no choice but to control the satellite's de-orbit, and make sure it crashes into an area void of human life. SOUNDBITE:(English)
"If we were to do nothing, if we had done nothing over the past several months, then we could face an uncontrolled re-entry, which means the spacecraft would begin to enter the atmosphere in a few years, it would begin to tumble as it gets buffeted by the upper-atmosphere, and then it would break apart, and where those pieces fell, nobody knows, nobody could say, and it could fall, in principle, on populated areas. That's the situation we have to avoid."
SUPER CAPTION: Dr. Alan Bunner, NASA Science Programme Director Debris from the Compton Observatory is expected to fall in a remote area of the Pacific Ocean, approximately 25-hundred (2500) miles (approximately 1550 kilometres) southeast of Hawaii, and thousands of miles away from any land or life. NASA says despite the death of one of its most successful satellites, Compton's task was too important to let die. Doctor Bunner says there are at least four satellites preparing to be launched over the next few years that will pick up where the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory left off. Find out more about AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/HowWeWork
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USA/SPACE COMPTON GAMMA RAY OBSERVATORY DUMPED
(4 Jun 2000) English/Nat
NASA put on a big light show early on Sunday, but it's not yet sure whether there were any witnesses. The space agency deliberately crashed a 17-ton satellite into a remote section of the Pacific Ocean. The Compton orbiting observatory was launched in 1991. The 670 (m) million dollar project was supposed to last two years, but was up and running for more than nine, providing a wealth of data for astronomers. A failed gyroscope prompted the space agency to decide in March to dump the Compton. Its 370-mile orbit would have kept it aloft for another 11 years, but NASA was worried that if more equipment failed engineers would not be able to control the vehicle and it would make a dangerous random return to Earth. So early on Sunday, the observatory was lined up for a final, fiery plunge to the ocean as NASA set out to deliberately crash a satellite for the first time ever. Engineers directed the Compton through a series of suicide rocket firings that dropped it from a high orbit and sent it plunging to Earth. The 17-ton spacecraft worked perfectly through a final 30-minute rocket firing and then engineers watched on instruments in mission control as the speeding satellite heated, broke apart and then went silent. The craft began coming apart about 0214 local time and engineers estimated that it would take as long as 20 minutes for some of the lighter pieces finally to hit the water. An Air Force observation plane reported sighting pieces of the spacecraft falling toward the ocean. It was estimated that about six tons of superheated metal survived the scorching re-entry and splashed in the Pacific. The target was a corridor starting some 25-hundred miles southeast of Hawaii and extending for more than two-thousand miles toward the southeast. Tracking signals from the spacecraft's final minutes indicated that its surviving pieces would safely hit the
target, far from any land. Among the pieces predicted to survive re-entry and hit the ocean were six 18-hundred pound aluminum I-beams and parts made of titanium, including more than five-thousand bolts. NASA engineers had calculated that if Compton was allowed to fall on its own, there was a chance of one in a thousand that someone would be killed. A controlled re-entry dropped the odds of a fatality to about one in 29 (m) million. The operation all apparently went smoothly. UPSOUND: (English)
\"...and I was honoured to support the mission as technical analyst, and from the centre directors' side, you made me proud, you all did a great job\"
SUPER CAPTION: Re-entry Controller Compton was the first major space observatory to make a systematic survey of natural sources of gamma rays - an invisible ray that is the most energetic part of the electromagnetic spectrum. In nine years of observations, Compton is said to have changed the way astronomers view the universe. The craft detected more than 26-hundred gamma ray bursts and showed that they are occurring throughout the universe. Astronomers have written about two-thousand papers based on data from Compton and more than 100 astronomers annually used the spacecraft to make observations. Compton was the second of NASA's great, orbiting observatories - spacecraft that get a clear view of the universe above the obscuring effect of the atmosphere. The other two, the Hubble Space Telescope and the Chandra X-ray Observatory, are still in orbit, working smoothly. Find out more about AP Archive: http://www.aparchive.com/HowWeWork
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Compton Gamma Ray Observatory
The Compton Gamma ray observatory
The Compton Gamma ray observatory was a space telescope made by NASA to identify gamma rays. All information in the video
Gamma-Ray Spectra Part One
1991: STS-37 Atlantis, Gamma Ray Observatory (NASA)
Space Shuttle flight 39 (STS-37), launched on 5 April 1991 and narrated by the astronauts. Crew: Steven R. Nagel, Kenneth D. Cameron, Jerry L. Ross, Jay Apt, Linda M. Godwin.
NASA's Swift Catches 500th Gamma-ray Burst
In its first five years in orbit, NASA's Swift satellite has given astronomers more than they could have hoped for. Its discoveries range from a nearby nascent supernova to a blast so far away that it happened when our universe was only 5 percent of its present age. Swift primarily studies gamma-ray bursts (GRBs) -- the biggest and most mysterious explosions in the cosmos. On April 13, the spacecraft's "burst-o-meter" cataloged its 500th GRB. "On the one hand, it's just a number, but on the other it is a remarkable milestone," said Neil Gehrels, Swift's lead researcher at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Each burst has turned over a new piece of the puzzle and a clearer picture is emerging." "Over five years and 500 bursts, Swift has fulfilled every significant promise of its mission and, in addition, brought a wealth of surprises," noted Derek Fox, a Swift team member at Penn State in University Park, Pa. Burst 500, officially known as GRB 100413B, exploded in constellation Cassiopeia as a long burst, a type usually associated with the death of a massive star. It wasn't detected in on-board analysis of data from the spacecraft's Burst Alert Telescope (BAT), which was interrupted 18 seconds after the burst as Swift slewed to a pre-planned target. Instead, GRB 100413B came to light when David Palmer, an astrophysicist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, later analyzed the data. "The BAT team regularly digs through the data once it comes to the ground and finds weak bursts like this one that take a bit of special care," said Goddard's Judith Racusin, who coordinated burst observations that day. Summaries of other notable bursts in Swift's storied career are listed below. Swift's main job is to quickly localize each gamma-ray burst, report its position so that others can immediately conduct follow-up observations, and then study the burst using its X-ray and Ultraviolet/Optical telescopes. But it does much more, including ultraviolet studies of exploding stars, monitoring black holes and neutron stars for surges of high-energy radiation, and carrying out a long-term X-ray survey of the entire sky. The spacecraft rocketed into orbit in November 2004. Managed by NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, Swift was built and is operated in collaboration with Penn State, the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, and General Dynamics of Gilbert, Ariz. Other partners include the University of Leicester and Mullard Space Science Laboratory in the United Kingdom, Brera Observatory and the Italian Space Agency in Italy, with additional collaborators in Germany and Japan. Origins Because gamma rays are the highest-energy form of light, the brief but brilliant blasts represent a colossal energy release. Gamma-ray bursts were discovered in 1967 by unclassified military satellites designed to look for clandestine nuclear tests. The first observations required extensive analysis to be sure that the bursts were truly originating beyond the solar system, and they weren't published until 1973. Over the following years, astronomers learned that sufficiently sensitive instruments could detect about two bursts per day, on average, somewhere in the sky. Of those twice-daily GRBs, Swift's Burst Alert Telescope snares about one in eight for detailed study. According to Lorella Angelini, a Goddard astrophysicist now developing a comprehensive burst database, the number of recorded GRBs is approaching 6,000. Yet if one considers only bursts with measured distances, Swift's share of the total is a whopping 75 percent. An earlier NASA satellite, the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory, showed that bursts come in long and short varieties, with long bursts (those lasting longer than two seconds) outnumbering short bursts three to one. Compton also showed that bursts occur randomly and evenly over the sky. Maps of GRB distribution bear no hint of our galaxy's structure. This means that they are extremely far away — and all the more powerful. Related links: INAF press release
http://www.media.inaf.it/2010/04/19/swift-500-grb/ Penn State release
http://www.science.psu.edu/news-and-events/2010-news/Swift4-2010 Sonoma State University's real-time GRB sky map
http://grb.sonoma.edu/ NASA Scientists Catch a Unique Gamma-Ray Burst (GRB 050509b)
http://www.nasa.gov/vision/universe/watchtheskies/short_burst.html Scientists Detect New Kind of Cosmic Explosion (GRB 060218)
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/swift/bursts/oddball_burst.html "Naked-Eye" Gamma-Ray Burst Was Aimed Squarely At Earth (GRB080319B)
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/swift/bursts/naked_eye_telecon.html New Gamma-Ray Burst Smashes Cosmic Distance Record (GRB 090423)
http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/swift/bursts/cosmic_record.html NASA's Swift Catches 500th Gamma-ray Burst
NASA's Three Great Observatories
The Chandra X-ray Observatory is one of NASA's "Great Observatories," along with the Hubble Space Telescope, the Spitzer Space Telescope, and the Compton Gamma Ray Observatory (now de-orbited). Chandra gives astronomers the power to investigate X-rays across the universe. This animation shows a short segment of each of the three active Great Observatories (Chandra, Hubble, and Spitzer) as depicted in their orbits.
(Credit: Chandra: NASA/CXC/A.Hobart; Hubble: NASA/ESA/STScI/G.Bacon; Spitzer: NASA/JPL)
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