Trying to find events out in space is tedious because you wouldn’t know if what you’ve found is the actual thing or if it’s just noise. But on August 14, astronomers might have picked up a possible collision between a black hole and a neutron star which would be the third of its kind to be detected with gravitational waves.
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The detection, called S190814bv, was likely triggered by the merger of a black hole and a neutron star, the ultra-dense leftovers of an exploded star. Though astronomers have long expected such binary systems to exist, they’ve never been seen by telescopes scanning the heavens for different wavelengths of light.
Though detectors also picked up signs of a neutron star-black hole merger on April 26, researchers say that S190814bv is far more compelling. The April event has a one-in-seven chance of being noise from Earth, and false alarms akin to the April signal are expected to pop up once every 20 months. But S190814bv almost certainly came from beyond our planet, and to see a false alarm resembling S190814bv, the LIGO team estimates that you’d have to wait longer than the age of the universe.
We might not be able to see a collision between a black hole and a neutron star as it happens in a millennia or more, but this gives us hope that as our technology advances and as we continue to venture out into space, we will be able to discover and one day see those events happening in real time. But for now, we can only wait.