In our Universe there are countless dangers dwelling within and ready to wipe us out in a split of a second. Luckily for us, they are too far away, so far that it takes millions of years even for light to reach us from those places. But some powerful and destructive forces don’t necessarily have to cause damage to us – their aftermath can just shake us in a very significant way.
This is the case for a recent burst of gravitational waves that hit our beloved planet at the beginning of 2020 – on January 14. It only lasted for a fraction of a second, but enough to stun the astronomers.
Nobody knows where it came from
For those who don’t know, gravitational waves are by definition a distortion in spacetime created by a cataclysmic cosmic event like two neutron stars orbiting rapidly around each other. As for the gravitational waves mentioned above, the signal has been detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and the Virgo interferometer. It lasted for just 14 milliseconds, but enough to baffle the minds of the astronomers since they weren’t able to find the cause of the event.
Andy Howell, a scientist at Los Cumbres Observatory Global Telescope Network, rules out the idea that the gravitational waves are belonging to massive objects like neutron stars. In such a case, the waves would have lasted longer and manifested as shifts in frequency over time as the objects move closer to each other.
Therefore, a more plausible scenario is that the short gravitational waves are belonging to a more transient cosmic event, like a supernova. For those who don’t know, supernovas are representing the death of a star after it loses its hydrogen that converts into helium. Thus, the stars explode and only the core remains, which will be a neutron star. The explosion itself is the supernova.
The findings have been published in Live Science.