How Gravitational Waves Pointed Us to the Origin of Gold

  • Speaker
  • Brian Metzger, Ph.D.Associate Professor, Astrophysics, Columbia University
Date & Time


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Two summers ago, the LIGO interferometers detected gravitational waves from coalescing neutron stars for the first time. (Neutron stars are the dense cores left over when massive stars explode at the end of their lives). This discovery initiated a frenzied search for a visual ‘afterglow’ to the merger using dozens of telescopes on the ground and in space. Within hours, fading blue light, unlike that ever seen before, was discovered from a galaxy 100 million light-years away.

In this lecture, Brian Metzger will discuss the monumental importance of the first detection of gravitational waves from coalescing neutron stars. The August 2017 discovery initiated a frenzied search for a visual ‘afterglow’ to the merger using dozens of telescopes on the ground and in space. Within hours, fading blue light, unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, was discovered from a galaxy 100 million light-years away. From the debris of the merger, he and other scientists witnessed directly for the first time the creation of the heaviest elements in the universe, such as gold, silver and platinum.

About the Speaker

Metzger is a theoretical astrophysicist. He was born and raised in Burlington, Iowa, received his Ph.D. in physics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 2009, and then held a NASA Einstein Postdoctoral Fellowship at Princeton University. In 2013, Metzger joined the faculty at Columbia University, where he is currently an associate professor of physics. He is also presently a visiting scholar at the Flatiron Institute’s Center for Computational Astrophysics. Metzger received a Sloan Research Fellow in 2014 and is currently a Simons Fellow in Mathematics and Theoretical Physics. Metzger’s contributions to neutron star mergers were recognized with the New Horizons Breakthrough Prize in Physics and the Bruno Rossi Prize of the American Astronomical Society.

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