LIGO/Virgo: Another First

Another gravitational wave observation gave scientists the best evidence yet about one aspect of merging stars.

On August 17, 2017, folks with the LIGO/Virgo collaboration observed three clusters of gravitational waves.

This time astronomers found an infrared, visible, and X-ray event near the gravitational wave source.

The August gravitational wave observation, GW170817, is the first one where astronomers found electromagnetic waves coming from the same spot. It’s a very big deal.

Something Different

Usually I’d have a great deal to say about what happened. This week’s ‘science news’ post will be different.

I had something on another topic ready to go. Then I somehow managed to wipe out about four dozen hours of work.

An unsatisfying half-hour later, I’d salvaged my notes, been extremely frustrated, and asked my son for help. Not necessarily in that order. He’s the family ‘tech guy,’ and told me what I figured I’d hear. There wasn’t a trace of the post left. Not even in system memory.

This was about two hours before I like to have the ‘Friday’ post ready. With nothing ready. Not. A. Thing.

On reflection, “extremely frustrated” is just part of my emotional response. Maybe I’ll find a reason to write about that. Or maybe not.

On the ‘up’ side, I had a nice supper with family, relaxed — slightly — and decided I’d talk a little about GW170817, neutron stars, and Norse mythology.

That seemed more reasonable than fretting about what I lost.

Besides, although I think what I wrote might have been interesting and maybe entertaining — it was hardly the most important thing in the universe.

Stepping back a little more, the universe itself is “like a grain from a balance.”

“Indeed, before you the whole universe is like a grain from a balance, or a drop of morning dew come down upon the earth.
“But you have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook sins for the sake of repentance.”
(Wisdom 11:2223)

I’m okay with that.

Magnetars and Sirach

That image doesn’t show GW170817.

It’s magnetar SGR 1745-2900, near our galaxy’s center.

Magnetars are neutron stars with very powerful magnetic fields.

Neutron stars are what’s left after a star with about 10 to 29 times the mass of ours begins running out of hydrogen. We’re pretty sure we know how they form.

GW170817 is a set of gravitational waves scientists detected in August. They’re almost certainly from a pair of neutron stars which merged.

‘All of the above’ are things we didn’t know existed a few centuries back. We’re still answering questions we had about them, quite often finding new questions in the process.1

I don’t mind living in a world where much of the science I learned in high school has been replaced by more detailed, exact data. And, quite often, with new understandings of how reality works.

I like it, but some folks apparently don’t. I’ve talked about that before.

I think Sirach puts the natural beauty and wonders surrounding us and the big picture in perspective.

“Behold the rainbow! Then bless its Maker, for majestic indeed is its splendor;
“It spans the heavens with its glory, this bow bent by the mighty hand of God.”
(Sirach 42:1112)

GW170817: Strong Evidence

(From NASA/ESA/N.Tanvir(U.Leicester) et al, via BBC Newss, used w/o permission.)

Gravitational waves: So many new toys to unwrap
Jonathan Amos, BBC News (October 17, 2017)

Whenever there’s a big science discovery, it’s always nice to get a historical perspective. And so here goes with the remarkable observation of gravitational waves emanating from the merger of two dead stars, or neutron stars, some 130 million light-years from Earth.

“It’s 50 years since the existence of these stellar remnants was confirmed (July 1967) by the mighty Northern Irish astronomer Jocelyn Bell Burnell. It’s more than 40 years since we realised neutron stars might occur in pairs, or binaries, as we call them….”

I talked about gravitational waves two weeks ago.

Also gravitational-wave astronomy, an international science network, a Nobel Prize in Physics, Empedocles, and Michelson interferometers, and the Alcubierre metric. (October 6, 2017)

Almost immediately after the LIGO/Virgo folks reported GW170817, Science published eight GW170817-related letters. Nature published six and a special issue of The Astrophysical Journal Letters had 23.

GW170817 is a very big deal.

It gives scientists the strongest evidence they found so far that merging stars and short gamma-ray bursts are connected.

It also sets a limit on the difference between the speed of light and that of gravity.

Normally I’d say more about GW170817. This isn’t a normal ‘Friday’ post, and it’s already a few hours after I’d planned on having one ready. I’ll probably come back to the topic, eventually. Meanwhile, I put links to a few related Wikipedia pages below.2

Faith and Norse Mythology

If I felt that my faith depends on firmly believing something as literally true as the story of Auðumbla and Buri — I wouldn’t understand my faith.

As a Catholic, I see the Bible as the Word of God. (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 101133)

I also realize that Sacred Scriptures weren’t written contemporary Euro-Americans.

Trying to understand them from a hardwired-literal Western viewpoint is an exercise in futility.

Happily, I’m Catholic. I have the Bible — plus Tradition and the Magisterium. (Catechism, 7495)

Tradition with a capital “T” isn’t trying to live as if 1967 never happened.

It’s certainly not imagining that much of what we’ve learned about the universe since Ptolemy’s day is a lie. Or that Mesopotamian scholars knew everything worth knowing about our world. (July 23, 2017; December 2, 2016)

It’s getting late, I’ve got tasks left to finish before sleep, so I’ll end with the usual allegedly-related posts:

1 Gravitational wave detection and astronomy:

2 A big deal:

About Brian H. Gill

I’m a sixty-something married guy with six kids, four surviving, in a small central Minnesota town. I mostly write and make digital art. I’m only interested in three things: that which exists within the universe; that which exists beyond; and that which might exist.

This entry was posted in being a writer, science news and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to LIGO/Virgo: Another First

  1. And now I know about gravitational waves, Brian. Thank you. But what might I have known if you hadn’t suffered the misfortunes of your computer swallowing your work! From someone who has been there and knows.

  2. Jose says:

    The detection of the gravitational waves produced by the merger of two neutron stars –GW170817– has allowed scientists to fix at 70 km/s per megaparsec * the value of the increase in speed of the expansion of the universe in the 130 million light years that separate us from the origin of said merger.
    As these calculations approach the speed of light throughout the age of the universe, we can do the inverse calculation to determine the average increase in the velocity of expansion so that the observable universe is of the age stated by the Big Bang Theory.
    The result is 300.000 km/s /(13.799/3,26) Mpc =70,820 km/s Mpc.

    • Thank you for taking time to comment. And the link to your English-language “Types of gravitational waves and gravitational ether” page: which discusses “gravitational waves as variations of longitudinal tension of global aether.”

      Folks who aren’t familiar with your work may be interested in’s home page. ( ) I see “la globalización cultural y científica”/cultural and scientific globalization is among your topics.

      I’m not convinced that gravitational waves propagate at the speed of light. That’s a reasonable assumption, given what physicists and cosmologists have learned over the last century. I figure we’ll learn more in the next centuries, and millenniums.

      It’s possible that Newton was on the right track with his “aethereal medium.”

      Scientists like Augustin Fresnel based their work on Newton’s aether. Scientists called it “luminiferous aether” by that time. Fresnel’s math was a close enough match to the real world to make the Fresnel lens possible.

      Michelson-Morley experiment in in 1887, 1902 to 1905, and the 1920s didn’t detect “ether wind.” Instead of rejecting data from the new technology, scientists kept reviewing what they were learning about how the universe works.

      They’re now confident that Newton, Fresnel, and others were right: but not entirely. One of the current works in progress is quantum mechanics.

      I’ve talked about Newton, aether, science, and dealing with new data, before. Fairly often, including Luminiferous Aether — or — There’s More to Learn (March 24, 2017) ( )

Thanks for taking time to comment!