Jets and debris from a neutron star collision
The Tri-Cities area was at the center of scientific achievement in 2017.
Science magazine named the first detection of gravitational waves from the massive, fiery collision of two neutron stars as its top 2017 scientific breakthrough of the year.
The gravitational waves were detected at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, or LIGO, at Hanford near Richland on Aug. 17. They also were detected at LIGO’s twin observatory in Louisiana and an observatory in Italy.
In another 11 hours, telescopes saw light from the collision. It was the first time that a cosmic event had been viewed in both gravitational waves and light, giving scientists a new way of learning about the universe.
LIGO previously had detected gravitational waves from the merger of black holes, but this was the first merger detected of neutron stars — the smallest, densest stars known to exist. The crash spewed material that radioactively decayed, creating gold and platinum.
Science magazine readers also were impressed by a detector developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Richland for the universe’s shiest particles.
It collected 24 percent of the public votes cast for the four finalists in Science magazine’s People’s Choice award.
That was not enough for it to be named People’s Choice, but it was enough for second place.
About 12,000 online votes were cast.
The winner, with 47 percent of votes cast, was a new gene therapy that is saving lives of babies born with a previously fatal inherited neuromuscular disease.
It was pioneered in France and Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio.
The PNNL detector, which is about the size of a camp lantern, helps scientists better understand the universe by detecting evidence of neutrinos, one of the smallest particles known to man.
The new detector weighs just 32 pounds, while other neutrino detectors weigh tons. The small size allowed it to be placed near the Spallation Neutron Source at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to find evidence of neutrinos before they scattered.
Scientists were able to observe the process of elusive, electrically neutral particles called neutrinos bouncing off the nucleus of an atom, as theorized 40 years ago.