LSU Research Contributes to Two Physics World 2017 Breakthroughs of the Year
BATON ROUGE – Physics World has announced that the Physics World 2017 Breakthrough of the Year goes to “the international team of astronomers and astrophysicists that ushered in a new era of astronomy by making the first ever multi-messenger observation involving gravitational waves.” On Aug. 17, the discovery was made using the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO; the Europe-based Virgo detector; and some 70 ground- and space-based instruments.
“This first observation of gravitational waves caused by two neutron starts colliding is a breakthrough for the field, the first detection of signals from black holes started gravitational-wave astronomy, but this detection started multi-messenger astronomy,” said Gabriela González, LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy professor and former international spokesperson for the 1,000-member LIGO Scientific Collaboration. “We are very honored to receive this recognition to not only a milestone discovery that has inspired the scientific community and the general public, but also to the teamwork that made it possible.”
These coordinated observations have already provided a vast amount of information about what happens when neutron stars collide in what is called a “kilonova.” The observations have yielded important clues about how heavy elements, such as gold, are produced in the universe. The ability to measure both gravitational waves and visible light from neutron-star mergers has also given a new and independent way of measuring the expansion rate of the universe. In addition, the observation settles a long-standing debate about the origin of short, high-energy, gamma-ray bursts.
“The staff of the LIGO Livingston Observatory, together with students and scholars in residence, and including many from LSU, have worked hard for many years to operate and improve the detector, making it capable of participating in this discovery,” said Joe Giaime, head of LIGO Livingston and LSU professor of physics and astronomy. “The gravitational-wave and other astronomical observations reported mark LIGO’s full involvement in multi-messenger astronomy.”
Giaime also co-chaired a team that wrote a paper describing the broad multi-messenger results, which covered the work of more than 3,500 authors from more than 50 collaborations around the world.
Another LSU research project was recognized as Physics World announced its top 10 breakthroughs of the year: Ultra-high-energy cosmic rays have extra-galactic origins. In 2017, the Pierre Auger Collaboration reported observational evidence demonstrating that cosmic rays with energies a million times greater than that of the protons accelerated in the Large Hadron Collider come from much further away than from our galaxy.
LSU Department of Physics & Astronomy Professor Jim Matthews, former co-spokesperson of the Auger Collaboration, works with more than 500 scientists from 17 countries on the world’s leading science project for the exploration of the highest energy cosmic rays to elucidate the origins and properties of the most energetic particles in the universe. The collaboration is reconstructing the path of the universe's most energetic cosmic rays, bringing new insights into the origin and nature of this intergalactic phenomenon.
“LSU has been an important part of this large, long-running international effort for more than 20 years with the Pierre Auger Observatory in western Argentina, including involvement of four LSU Ph.D. students,” Matthews said. “We have not yet identified the specific sources of these most energetic particles in the cosmos, but this work is a huge step forward in that hunt.”
The full list of breakthroughs is posted on physicsworld.com. The top 10 breakthroughs were chosen by a panel of Physics World editors, and the criteria for judging included:
- Fundamental importance of research;
- Significant advance in knowledge;
- Strong connection between theory and experiment; and
- General interest to all physicists.
Contact Mimi LaValle
LSU Physics & Astronomy
LSU Media Relations