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Scientists Are The Worst At Secrets: Discovering The Kilonova

From Audio: Computational Astrophysics and Kilonovae with Dr Heloise F. Stevance (#22)

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Duration: 05:42
STEAM Powered has a conversation with Dr Heloise Stevance, computational astrophysicist, who tells us about the discovery of the kilonova and how scientists are terrible at keeping secrets.
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STEAM Powered has a conversation with Dr Heloise Stevance, computational astrophysicist, who tells us about the discovery of the kilonova and how scientists are terrible at keeping secrets.
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huh Because a lot of stuff is being collected by all the telescopes. So you have a ton of data and I'm guessing did they just see this thing and this is this is like a supernova but not. How did they realize there's nothing. That's the question. I love the discovery of the killer is one of the best story. I was on the outskirts of the field so I'm not on any of the papers but I knew the people that worked on that stuff. So people knew that killing about, we're going to be a thing uh Like they were still debate about what it was going to be called but it had already been in the literature, people had thought about what a neutron star neutron star merger could be. People already thought that they were the cause of what we call short gamma ray burst. There's another kind of gamma ray bursts as long, which is why we have the short in front um which is nobody was sure until you could actually see it. Um And so what happened is that ligo, which the people that observe the gravitational waves were doing their thing and they saw a neutron star merger. And they can tell from the gravitational waves because the signature is very different from a black hole merger because the objects are much smaller and they don't have the same. And so they can tell exactly what kind of mask the objects having. They were like this is neutron star neutron stars up. This is and they can also tell you roughly what distance it's at and they were like this is nearby, this is really close, this is good guys. Um and so once that news came out, I mean it was kind of, you know, they kept a lid on it. But a third of the third of the astronomers of all of the astronomers knew about what was going on uh like kept secret was so basic. All of the things they had put in place because people had thought about that possibility and they had follow up strategies. So what you do in that case, when you think, okay, we might be able to observe this, this kind of this, you know, this sort of cool staff you can put in um uh sorry. Um you can put in requests at the telescopes ahead of time saying if this stuff happens then we will need this sort of time. Um or in that case it can be so exceptional that the people at that, you know, director telescopes are like, we will just take control of the telescope slowly while sorry for the people that are already here, my husband was observing at the VLT at the time and so the two hours from him every night at the beginning of his not to observe the object. Um and so basically all of the time because they could look at it looked at it and all the wavelengths that they could um Now very quickly they found um the they had found the counter about this. So the light from the object and they managed to find it because they didn't just get the gravitation wave. They also got the gamma ray burst. And that's very cool because that allows you to kind of help them triangulate the original the signal. And so they had a bunch of, you know, small telescope that can be pretty quickly like look at all the, all of the galaxy in the sky like oh my God, where is it? Where is it? Where is it? And and when they found it, all of the big telescopes that are big and clunky or whatever that needs someone special to be like, hey we're gonna take two hours of your time. Then you got in the follow in the following days. And so it was a secret. But then because everyone was like people were like, well where is my telescope time going? Looking at the logs of the telescope to be like, well they're looking at this position. Exactly. Everyone nervously something going on here. We need to have a look to everyone. Everyone knew kind of where the object was like it was so secret. Like they weren't allowed to be in for um control room of the telescope in case someone saw the spectrum coming and like they don't want to get to um so it was the West Cape secret in astronomy also because 11 of my mess. He's one is one of the biggest theorists of the, of the late The second half of the 20th century. He writes books about Super Navy and stuff. She tweeted about it unless it was like, oh my God, electromagnetic counterpart to neutral style merger, blow your socks off on twitter without anyone before before any announcement, official announcements. Uh, so he got reprimanded a little bit everyone it um, so everyone knew. Um, and eventually, you know, the papers came out and it was great. But yeah, it was definitely the worst kept secret in astronomy. And that's what makes me laugh when he was like, oh my God, you know, there is a wife and the, that was hiding it from us. It's like if astronomers knows something, you can't keep a secret like this is, it's been like, no, no way, there's no way they could possibly get anybody else. That's really, and it's funny because you're keeping a secret from a bunch of people whose sole job is extrapolate information from the little that they've got exactly like that's not gonna happen. I just want to keep it a secret enough that nobody publishes a paper, you know, before. Yeah, yeah. You understand you because they put a lot of time and effort into that. Exactly. It was very funny. That is great. That's such a brilliant story
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