First ever optical photons from a gravitational wave source

First observations of merging neutron stars mark a new era in astronomy

UC Santa Cruz team made the first ever observations of a visible event linked to the detection of gravitational waves, using the small Swope Telescope in Chile

SANTA CRUZ, CA--Two months ago, the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) notified astronomers around the world of the possible detection of gravitational waves from the merger of two neutron stars. From that moment on August 17, the race was on to detect a visible counterpart, because unlike the colliding black holes responsible for LIGO's four previous detections of gravitational waves, this event was expected to produce a brilliant explosion of visible light and other types of radiation.

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Neutron stars, gravitational waves, and all the gold in the universe

Astronomer Ryan Foley says observing the explosion of two colliding neutron stars--the first visible event ever linked to gravitational waves--is probably the biggest discovery he'll make in his lifetime. That's saying a lot for a young assistant professor who presumably has a long career still ahead of him.

So what makes this strange cataclysm in another galaxy so exciting to astronomers? And what the heck is a neutron star, anyway?

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Youth Power

Graduate students and post-doctoral scholars at UC Santa Cruz played key roles in the dramatic discovery and analysis of colliding neutron stars

Astronomer Ryan Foley leads a team of young graduate students and postdoctoral scholars who have pulled off an extraordinary coup. Following up on the detection of gravitational waves from the violent merger of two neutron stars, Foley's team was the first to find the source with a telescope and take images of the light from this cataclysmic event. In so doing, they beat much larger and more senior teams with much more powerful telescopes at their disposal.

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Note to reporters: You may contact Ryan Foley at 510-388-3364 (cell) or, and Enrico Ramirez-Ruiz at 831-345-4117 (cell) or

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