Virginia Tech professor helped make major celestial discovery

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) A Virginia Tech researcher was part of the world wide effort to detect gravitational waves from two neutron stars colliding.

NASA released a demonstration of what scientists were able to see of the stars smashing into each other some 130 million years ago.

The event just reached the earth in August and just Monday the National Science Foundation released the news of their discovery.

One of the thousands of researchers studying this is a Physics professor at Virginia Tech who studied radio waves in New Mexico.

"Very, very exciting," said John Simonetti, a Physics Professor at Virginia Tech. He was one of 3,500 scientists and researchers from around the world that saw neutron stars colliding. This is a simulation of what they recorded.

Researchers observed gravitational waves and light coming from those colliding neutron stars for the first time ever.

This once-in-a-lifetime event can now change the way we observe the universe.

"A neutron star is an object about the size of Blacksburg but it packs the mass of the sun into that volume so one sugar cube of that material would weigh 100 million tons if you stuck it on the surface of the earth," Simonetti explained.

The explosion was what scientists including Sinonetti wanted to see. He's part of a group of astronomers who made an agreement to share information about events of this magnitude and where to look when they happen.

"We don't tell anybody about this until the press conference that happened yesterday in Washington, DC and now we can talk about it so I have a lot of pent up energy that I haven't been using for a month an a half," Simonetti said.

He witnessed a never-before-scene event that's now part of history and changes the way scientists research outer space.

"The way that science works is on display for the world here about how when cooperation takes place across international boundaries you can get something very exciting and interesting done," Simonetti said.

Researchers now have evidence that elements like gold and silver are created by those collisions.

Scientists say gold jewelry was produced by a similar collision, answering a longtime question of where about half of all elements heavier than iron are produced.

A news release from the National Science Foundation is posted in a box associated with this story above.