Exclusive: We may have detected a new kind of gravitational wave

Aug 23, 2017

By Mika McKinnon

Have we detected a new flavour of gravitational wave? Speculation is swelling that researchers have spotted the subtle warping of the fabric of space resulting from the cataclysmic collision of two neutron stars.

Now optical telescopes – including the Hubble space telescope – are scrambling to point their lenses at the source of the possible wave: an elliptical galaxy hundreds of millions of light years away.

Gravitational waves are markers of the most violent events in our universe, generated when dense objects such as black holes or neutron stars crash together with tremendous energy. Two experiments – LIGO in the US and VIRGO in Europe – set out to detect minuscule changes in the path of laser beams caused by passing gravitational waves.

LIGO has discovered three gravitational wave sources to date, all of them colliding black holes. The two observatories have been coordinating data collection since November, increasing their sensitivity. That collaboration may be about to pay off.

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