This is an artist's representation of two neutron stars colliding, which astronomers witnessed for the first time on August 17. The rippling space-time grid represents gravitational waves that travel out from the collision, while the narrow beams show the bursts of gamma rays that are shot out just seconds after the gravitational waves. Swirling clouds of material ejected from the merging stars are also depicted. The clouds glow with visible and other wavelengths of light.
This artist's impression shows the spiral death dance of the two stars before colliding.
On the left, this Carnegie Observatories image shows the brightness of the stars colliding in the upper left corner on the day it happened. This is juxtaposed with the image on the right of the reddish-brown color as the collision cooled in the days after. The image on the left is also the first to capture visual evidence of a gravitational wave source.
This is another artist's impression of two tiny but very dense neutron stars at the point at which they merge and explode as a kilonova.
Another artist's illustration showing the moment of impact between the two neutron stars.
The collision happened in the galaxy NGC 4993, about 130 million light-years from Earth. Although this is far from Earth, the galaxy is a neighbor "just around the corner" from our own Milky Way, according to astronomers.
The merging of two neutron stars produces a violent explosion known as a kilonova. Such an event is expected to expel heavy chemical elements into space. This picture shows some of these elements, along with their atomic numbers.
Neutron stars are incredibly dense, squeezing more than the mass of the sun into a sphere the size of a city. The diameter of a neutron star is about 12 miles, shown here scaled against the Chicago skyline for comparison.
This illustration shows the ejecting of materials, including heavy elements, due to the merger of the stars. The heavy elements were spread across space.