New telescope will hunt for neutron stars colliding

The rare events can unveil significant information about the development of our universe.
Loukia Papadopoulos
The Gravitational-wave Optical Transient ObserverGOTO

There's a new telescope in town, and it will have the difficult task of spotting neutron stars as they collide, as reported by the BBC. It's called the Gravitational Wave Optical Transient Observer (GOTO) and is located on the volcanic Spanish island of La Palma.

Making the most out of really good detections

"When a really good detection comes along, it's all hands on deck to make the most of it," Prof Danny Steeghs, of Warwick University told the BBC.

"Speed is of the essence. We are looking for something very short-lived - there's not much time before they fade away."

The new tool consists of two jet-black batteries of eight cylindrical telescopes bolted together that each covers a different part of the sky by rapidly twisting and turning both vertically and horizontally.

Neutron stars are some of the most exotic and active objects in the universe, even if they're technically dead.

They consist of inert suns that carry such a massive weight and gravity that they are drawn to each other. As such, they eventually head for each other, crashing and merging.

When this occurs, the suns release a gravitational wave that distorts space. It is this phenomenon that the new telescope spots and focuses on to capture the suns' collision.

However, despite the powerful tools at their disposal, scientists still struggle to achieve this.

"You would think that these explosions are very energetic, very luminous, it should be easy," said astrophysics professor Dr. Joe Lyman. "But we are having to search through a hundred million stars for the one object that we are interested in." 

"We have to do this very rapidly because the object will disappear within two days."

Reaching out for data and images from more powerful tools

Once they have identified a potential collision source, they then rely on other more powerful tools to image it and acquire useful data from it. These tools are located around the globe and can each offer a very specific advantage.

"Now we're not hoping for new discoveries anymore. Instead, we're being told where to find them and getting to uncover, piece-by-piece what lies out there in the Universe," said GOTO's instrumentation scientist, Dr. Kendall Ackley.

These new discoveries could unleash crucial information about the making of our universe and the circumstances that made life possible. Just last month, astronomers discovered one of the youngest known neutron stars while analyzing data from the VLA Sky Survey (VLASS).

Now, they await follow-up observations that will allow them to view the neutron star's very early formation and behavior, providing new insight into the evolution of dying stars and the celestial objects that surround them.

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