Here’s Why We Should Put a Gravitational Wave Observatory on the Moon

Gravitational Wave science holds great potential that scientists are eager to develop. Is a gravitational wave observatory on the Moon the way forward? NASA/Goddard/LRO.

Scientists detected the first long-predicted gravitational wave in 2015, and since then, researchers have been hungering for better detectors. But the Earth is warm and seismically noisy, and that will always limit the effectiveness of Earth-based detectors.

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The Universe Sparkles in Gamma Rays in this New NASA Animation

Cosmic fireworks, invisible to our eyes, fill the night sky. We can get a glimpse of this elusive light show thanks to the Large Area Telescope (LAT) aboard NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope, which observes the sky in gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light. Image Credit: NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center/Daniel Kocevski

We’ve come a long way since gamma rays were discovered.

The late 1800s and early 1900s were a time of great scientific advancements. Scientists were just getting a handle on the different types of radiation. Radium featured prominently in the experiments, including one by French scientist Paul Ulrich Villard in 1900.

Radium decays readily, and scientists had already identified alpha and beta radiation coming from radium samples. But Villard was able to identify a third type of penetrating radiation so powerful even a layer of lead couldn’t stop it: gamma rays.

Now we have a gamma ray detector in space, and it’s showing us how the Universe sparkles with this powerful energy.

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First Cosmic Event Observed in Both Gravitational Waves and Light

Artist's illustration of two merging neutron stars. The narrow beams represent the gamma-ray burst while the rippling spacetime grid indicates the isotropic gravitational waves that characterize the merger. Swirling clouds of material ejected from the merging stars are a possible source of the light that was seen at lower energies. Credit: National Science Foundation/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

About 130 million years ago, in a galaxy far away, two neutron stars collided. The cataclysmic crash produced gravitational waves, ripples in the fabric of space and time. This event is now the 5th observation of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (LIGO) and Virgo collaboration, and the first detected that was not caused by the collision of two black holes.

But this event — called a kilonova — produced something else too: light, across multiple wavelengths.

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