A Dutch telescope in Chile searches deep within the universe for colliding neutron stars and black holes

La Silla Observatory in the Atacama Desert in Chile, including new BlackGem telescopes.Photo by Zdenek Bardon (bardon.cz)/ESO

These collisions are events so powerful that they cause space and time itself to vibrate in the form of so-called gravitational waves. The waves can be picked up using very sensitive detectors, such as Virgo in Italy or Ligo in the United States.

About the author
Georg van Hal is the scientific editor of the Volkskrant newspaper. Books about astronomy, physics, and space travel. Van Hal published books on everything from the universe to the smallest, most basic elements of reality.

Collisions of neutron stars (massive remnants of dead massive stars) and black holes (massive cosmic monsters that swallow up even light with their gravity) cause more than just a distinct inflation of space-time. For example, powerful impacts can also produce so-called gamma-ray bursts, which are powerful flashes of light that you can, in principle, pick up with ordinary telescopes.

Chupa Chups lollipop shape

After Virgo or Ligo detects a gravitational wave, they can pinpoint the part of the sky that signal is supposed to come from. This region is approximately twenty by twenty full moons. The three BlackGem telescopes – which at first glance look like giant Chupa Chups lollipops – are designed in such a way that they can very efficiently search such a specific area, for example, for the associated gamma-ray burst.

The BlackGem telescopes were developed and built by a Dutch/Flemish consortium led by the Netherlands Research School for Astronomy (NOVA) and Radboud University in Nijmegen. The three telescopes are a million times more sensitive than the human eye, and can capture images of the night sky continuously. For example, they can identify the source of a gravitational wave, and then larger telescopes can make follow-up measurements.

The BlackGem telescopes were already being used by astronomers last year, before the official opening by Dijkgraaf. BlackGem isn’t the only instrument looking at the universe this way, though, as more northerly competitors like the Pan-Starrs telescopes in Hawaii and the Zwicky Transient Facility in California are in a different hemisphere, giving them a different part of the sky to see. .

New insights into cosmic mysteries

By observing cosmic events in different ways, for example, measuring both gravitational waves and electromagnetic waves (light) at the same time, astronomers can gain new insights into key cosmological mysteries, such as exactly how black holes behave or exactly how neutron stars appear. In their interior designs.

In addition to research on colliding black holes and neutron stars, BlackGem will also shoot a film about the southern sky. In this way, telescopes can also detect another sudden flash or flash in the starry sky (“transients,” in astronomers’ parlance). Consider, among others, the supernova explosions that cause large stars to explode, or the explosions that small stars can cause when they absorb material from a second, nearby star.

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