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Neutron Star Brings Astronomers One Step Closer to Proving the Existence of Gravitational Waves

Jun 27, 2014 06:03 PM EDT
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Scientists from the University of Warwick and Monash University have brought astronomers one step closer to proving the existence of gravitational waves with their recent study, published in The Astrophysical Journal.

Albert Einstein first proposed the existence of gravitational waves as part of his theory of relativity, setting in motion a pursuit for proof.

Gravitational waves are ripples in the space-time continuum, and are believed to carry information that will allow us to look back into the very beginnings of the Universe. Previous studies have amounted strong evidence in favor of their presence, and this study adds another piece to the puzzle.

Researchers provided precise measurements of a rapidly rotating neutron star - one of the smallest, densest stars in the Universe, created after giant stars die in a supernova. Neutron stars, along with colliding black holes and the Big Bang, may all be sources of gravitational waves.

The Monash and Warwick team looked specifically at the orbit of Scorpius X-1, a double star system containing a neutron star that feeds off a nearby companion star. It is the strongest source of X-rays in the sky apart from the Sun.

Searching for gravitational waves is no easy task, and researchers had a hard time of it given the lack of precise knowledge about the neutron star's orbit.

"We have made a concerted effort to refine Scorpius X-1's orbit and other parameters, with the goal of significantly boosting the sensitivity of searches for gravitational waves," Dr. Duncan Galloway from the Monash Centre for Astrophysics explained in a statement.

And though they were eventually successful in obtaining their measurements, astronomers still have a long way to go before confirming the existence of these mysterious waves, which hold the key to understanding the Universe.

"Detecting gravitational waves will open a new window for observation and allow us to study objects in the Universe in a way that can't be achieved using traditional astronomy techniques," Galloway concluded.

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