November 17, 2017
The direct detection of gravitational waves by the LIGO Observatory in 2015 opened an entirely new window for us to study the universe. While the first gravitational wave detections were from the merger of two black holes, we have been anxiously awaiting the first detection of merging neutron stars, as these were thought to be promising candidates of electromagnetic radiation. Sure enough, on 17 August 2017, LIGO and Virgo observed a gravitational wave signal from a binary neutron star system. Nearly two seconds later, a short gamma-ray burst was observed by the Fermi satellite, and the era of multi-messenger astrophysics was spawned. Here I'll describe this remarkable set of observations, from which we were not only able to solve the mystery of the origin of short gamma-ray bursts, but also the dominant source of heavy element formation in the Universe.
Brad Cenko is a Research Astrophysicist at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, MD, as well as an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Astronomy at the University of Maryland, College Park. His research interests are varied but largely fall under the rubric of observational time-domain astronomy, including gamma-ray bursts, supernovae, and tidal disruption flares. He is also intent on developing instrumentation and software to enable novel observations of such time variable phenomena.