Lancaster University professor helps detect unique space phenomenon

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A Lancaster professor is part of an international collaboration which has detected an astronomical phenomenon never before observed.

For the first time ever, astronomers have observed both ripples in space time (gravitational waves) and light (electromagnetic radiation) from the same event, thanks to a global collaborative effort.

Prof Isobel Hook from Lancaster University’s Department of Physics is one of the scientists involved in the groundbreaking discovery, published in several papers in the journal Nature and elsewhere, through her involvement in the Public ESO Spectroscopic Survey of Transient Objects observing programme.

Prof Hook said: “I’ve been extremely lucky to have been involved in this discovery which opens up a whole new field of astrophysics.”

The discovery was made using telescopes around the world, including the European Southern Observatory’s fleet of telescopes in Chile, by detecting 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 also provides the strongest evidence yet that short-duration gamma-ray bursts are caused by mergers of neutron stars.