Visible Detections of Gravitational Wave Sources

The start of multi-messenger astronomy

ESO’s fleet of telescopes in Chile have detected and studied the first visible counterpart to a gravitational wave source. This historic observation suggests that astronomers are seeing the result of the merger of two neutron stars. The cataclysmic aftermaths of this kind of merger — long-predicted events called kilonovae — disperse heavy elements such as gold and platinum throughout the Universe. This discovery also provides the strongest evidence yet that short-duration gamma-ray bursts are caused by mergers of neutron stars.

For the first time ever, astronomers have observed both gravitational waves and light (electromagnetic radiation) from the same event, thanks to a global collaborative effort and the quick reactions of both ESO’s facilities and others around the world.

These observations mark the start of "multi-messenger" astronomy. See ESO Science Release eso1733.

"There are rare occasions when a scientist has the chance to witness a new era at its beginning,” said Elena Pian, astronomer with INAF, Italy, and lead author of one of the Nature papers. “This is one such time!"


Artist’s impression of merging neutron stars