ESO’s fleet of telescopes in Chile have detected the first visible counterpart to a gravitational wave source. These historic observations suggest that this unique object is the result of the merger of two neutron stars. The cataclysmic aftermaths of this kind of merger — long-predicted events called kilonovae — disperse heavy elements such as gold and platinum throughout the Universe. This discovery, published in several papers in the journal Nature and elsewhere, also provides the strongest evidence yet that short-duration gamma-ray bursts are caused by mergers of neutron stars.
.. As night fell in Chile many telescopes peered at this patch of sky, searching for new sources. These included
- ESO’s Visible and Infrared Survey Telescope for Astronomy (VISTA) and VLT Survey Telescope (VST) at the Paranal Observatory, the
- Italian Rapid Eye Mount (REM) telescope at ESO’s La Silla Observatory, the
- LCO 0.4-meter telescope at Las Cumbres Observatory, and the
- American DECam at Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory.
- The Swope 1-metre telescope was the first to announce a new point of light.
It appeared very close to NGC 4993, a lenticular galaxy in the constellation of Hydra, and VISTA observations pinpointed this source at infrared wavelengths almost at the same time. As night marched west across the globe,
- the Hawaiian island telescopes Pan-STARRS and Subaru also picked it up and watched it evolve rapidly.
.. “ESO’s great strength is that it has a wide range of telescopes and instruments to tackle big and complex astronomical projects, and at short notice. We have entered a new era of multi-messenger astronomy!” concludes Andrew Levan, lead author of one of the papers.