Louisiana Astronomers 1st to See an Awesome Black Hole Eat a Star
I don't know what you had to eat over the 4th of July holiday, but a couple of black holes I heard about were gobbling up entire neutron stars making super-massive pigs of themselves. OK, so it wasn't really this past weekend, it was somewhere on the order of billions of years ago, literally hundreds of millions of light-years away from here. But, there's no denying it - proof of the all-you-can-eat dead star buffet was discovered right here in the Bayou State.
According to the very excited press release from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) in Livingston, Louisiana - researchers working in a remote part of Livingston Parish made the discovery in late January of last year. Why is this a big deal now? The neutron-star feast was found using a bourgeoning new science that measures gravitational waves emitted when the galaxy starts throwing it's weight around and doing some cosmic stuff - exactly like when big black holes starting eating helpless neutron stars. A lot of double and triple-checking was done before last weeks release.
The facility in Livingston and another near Pisa, Italy (a joint operation of the National Science Center, MIT, and Caltech) were the first to ever detect one of these incredible astronomical events by measuring the incredibly small gravitational waves put out like ripples across a pool when the galaxy does some inter-stellar belly-flopping. Using a system of lasers shooting through vacuums and some very sensitive sensors - these super-smart scientists can now see disturbances in the very fabric of the universe and determine what happened.
To make sure they were seeing what they were seeing - there were a lot of reviews. After all of that, the worlds smartest astronomers are pretty sure (they're never 100%) that they aren't crazy after all. They actually detected 2 separate events last year, one on January 5th of and another on January 15th. Both were occurrences of massive black holes gorging on neutron stars - and the data these scientists were able to gather about these events is amazing. They could tell how big each black hole and each neutron star was, the energy released, and a lot of stuff that I honestly don't understand.
It seems like we are on the road to knowing what's going on in our galaxy by reading disturbances in the force using cool lasers.
Maybe I'm reading too much into it, maybe I'm too much of a Star Wars fan to be objective. It is pretty cool.