Just After Gravitational Waves Were Proven, NASA Got Its Own Shocker

NASA picked up a completely unexpected gamma-ray burst coming from the same black holes that proved gravitational waves.

On September 14, when scientists picked up the first direct evidence of gravitational waves thanks to the echoes of two black holes colliding 1.3 billion years ago, it was a Very Big Deal, as we all know. They'd been looking for the since Einstein predicted them as part of general relativity in 1916, but here at last was proof. An epochal moment.

  • NASA Ames Research Center
  • What's been less-reported, though, is that just half a second after Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) scientists in Washington and Louisiana detected the gravitational wave signals, NASA's orbiting Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope picked up a short, faint signal from the same area in space: Gamma rays likely emanating from the same black-hole collision. If this is confirmed, it's an earth-shaking surprise.

  • NASA/Sonoma State University/Aurore Simonnet
  • Astronomers believe that when two black holes combine, they do so "cleanly," without producing any light. If these are indeed gamma rays, that has to be wrong. Creating light requires a gas of some sort, and anything like that should have been swallowed up before the black holes even met, or at least prevailing theory goes. Or went.

    There seem to be only two possible explanations. Either the gamma signal was just a coincidence, and that’s not likely —NASA says there's just a .2% chance of that. Or black holes do emit gamma rays, which means that astronomers have some serious re-thinking to do about black holes’ behavior.

    Astronomers' consolation prize for having a part of black-hole theory possibly blown right out of the sky is that it’s easier to figure out where the big collision took place with three data points than it was with two. Adding the location of the gamma signal has reduced the arc in which scientists think it occurred, from 600 square degrees to 200.


    Headline image: tpsdave

    LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

    Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

    Getty Images
    Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

    No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

    Keep reading Show less

    People who engage in fat-shaming tend to score high in this personality trait

    A new study explores how certain personality traits affect individuals' attitudes on obesity in others.

    Mind & Brain
    • The study compared personality traits and obesity views among more than 3,000 mothers.
    • The results showed that the personality traits neuroticism and extraversion are linked to more negative views and behaviors related to obesity.
    • People who scored high in conscientiousness are more likely to experience "fat phobia.
    Keep reading Show less

    4 anti-scientific beliefs and their damaging consequences

    The rise of anti-scientific thinking and conspiracy is a concerning trend.

    Moon Landing Apollo
    • Fifty years later after one of the greatest achievements of mankind, there's a growing number of moon landing deniers. They are part of a larger trend of anti-scientific thinking.
    • Climate change, anti-vaccination and other assorted conspiratorial mindsets are a detriment and show a tangible impediment to fostering real progress or societal change.
    • All of these separate anti-scientific beliefs share a troubling root of intellectual dishonesty and ignorance.
    Keep reading Show less

    Reigning in brutality - how one man's outrage led to the Red Cross and the Geneva Conventions

    The history of the Geneva Conventions tells us how the international community draws the line on brutality.

    Napoleon III at the Battle of Solferino. Painting by Adolphe Yvon. 1861.
    Politics & Current Affairs
    • Henry Dunant's work led to the Red Cross and conventions on treating prisoners humanely.
    • Four Geneva Conventions defined the rules for prisoners of war, torture, naval and medical personnel and more.
    • Amendments to the agreements reflect the modern world but have not been ratified by all countries.
    Keep reading Show less