It is only in the last few years however that we have been able to prove that they exist and this is the very first time we’ve actually been able to see an event so powerful that it could create them.
The two objects were neutron stars, they are the crushed remains of a leftover star that has previously exploded in a supernova. So while only being just 12-miles wide they had a mass that was 60x that of our own Sun.
Both objects were pulled into each others gravity spinning around each other hundreds of times every second until they finally merged causing an explosion known as a kilonova.
It’s one of the universe’s most spectacular events and its power is so immense that not only were we able to see it from over 130 million light years away but we were able to actually detect the shockwaves through the fabric of spacetime itself.
What makes this discovery so important is the ability to both see and feel the shockwaves felt by the explosion.
“This is the one we’ve all been waiting for,” said David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO Laboratory at Caltech in Pasadena, California.
“Neutron star mergers produce a wide variety of light because the objects form a maelstrom of hot debris when they collide. Merging black holes ― the types of events LIGO and its European counterpart, Virgo, have previously seen ― very likely consume any matter around them long before they crash, so we don’t expect the same kind of light show.”
What’s even more impressive is that over a period of a little over a week you can actually see the explosion and then the light fade.
Remarkably scientists were able to detect the shockwave first, and then direct the world’s various telescopes to the exact location in the night sky where the explosion had originated from.
Hubble was then able to start capturing the visible light, clearly revealing the intensity of the explosion itself.
In addition to learning more about gravitational waves the scientists have also learned a great deal about a kilonova explosion. In fact it’s believed that neutron stars colliding is the universe’s dominant source for creating some of the heaviest elements including platinum and gold.
So next time you look down at a piece of jewellery remember that gold is probably created from one of the universe’s most powerful explosive events.