When the wildfire smoke clears, Western Montana dark skies are incredible for star-gazing. It makes sense that both Montana State University and University of Montana are helping the studies of the universe.

MSU in Bozeman has been involved in some extraordinary research through the years. they've had teams follow the total eclipse to other countries to capture images from high altitudes. And they have helped NASA with mini-satellites and more.

Recently, gravitational waves have been detected from incredibly massive events far away from Earth. For instance, when two Black Holes meet or when two Neutron stars collide. However, no one had observed a merger of a black hole with a neutron star. Until this year. A recent merger of a black hole with a neutron star was first detected by two Italian and U.S. observatories. The gravitational waves were analyzed by astronomers, using a computer algorithm developed by Montana State University team headed by Neil Cornish of the eXtreme Gravity Institute in Bozeman.

A study in a July issue of The Astrophysical Letters reported two collisions between a black hole and a neutron star (January 5 and January 15) that produced gravitational waves. The MSU program helped researchers pull the wave signals out of all the universal background noise.

The MSU team wants to closely study what makes up neutron stars, but more sensitive detectors are needed to examine the stars' merger. As Cornish said in an MSU news release, "We're really interested in measuring the parts of the signal right at the end as the neutron star is getting swallowed (by the black hole) or ripped apart."

That part of the merger might be observed in the near future. The most recent estimate by research teams is that within a billion light-years from Earth, there's about one merger a month. More sensitive equipment may come "on line" by next summer. And the MSU program will be ready to help detect the massive fireworks. Check out the full story at the MSU news site.


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