"This is the first time the cosmos has provided for us what I would call a talking movie", David Reitze, executive director of the LIGO laboratory, said at a news conference in mid-October.
Distance estimates from both the gravitational wave data and other observations agree that GW170817 (the name for the detection) was at the same distance as NGC 4993, about 130m light years from Earth.
What's next: Dozens of papers are being published today by the more than 3500 researchers involved in the work.
Scientists have detected gravitational waves for the first time ever. These distortions were caused by passing gravitational waves that were generated by colliding black holes around 1.3 billion years ago. But black holes stay black even when they collide: they don't produce a flash or give off any other radiation.
In the weeks and months ahead, telescopes will continue to observe the afterglow of the neutron star merger and gather further evidence about various stages of the merger, its interaction with its surroundings, and the processes that produce the heaviest elements in the universe.
Once the general area was spotted, LIGO spread the information to the astronomy community across the globe and within just a few hours of the detection, thousands of astronomers operating across about 70 ground-based and space-based telescopes started searching the sky.
Many stars are binary - two stars that orbit each other. Our observations also strongly support the theory that the stable end-products of these chains of reactions include copious amounts of precious metals like gold and platinum.
In September 2015, the California-based observatory specifically established to search for gravitational waves first sensed gravitational waves.
About two seconds after the latest gravitational wave incident ended, a bright flash of light, in the form of gamma rays, was detected by USA space agency NASA's Fermi space telescope. The two neutron stars spiralled into each other until they collided and merged, as seen in this computer simulation.
"This is the start of the new multi-messenger astronomy, where various techniques such as the gravitational wave laser interferometers. and astronomical techniques are used together to study one event", said Sergio Colafranco, who led a team at the University of the Witwatersrand that worked with data from the High Energy Spectroscopic System telescope in Namibia and the AGILE system in Italy. Already, follow-up observations by telescopes around the world have revealed signatures of recently synthesized material, including gold and platinum. Eventually, they located the explosive leftovers of the merger, pointed out The Verge. The gamma ray bursts, shining a million trillion times more brightly than the Sun, was an immediate result of the collision, while the subsequent kilonova was due to the radioactive decay of heavy atoms formed when the neutron-rich guts of the compressed star was liberated from the overwhelming pressure of the interior. "That to me sums up the momentous discovery and hints at the possibilities going forward", said Petri Vaisanen, head of operations at the South African Large Telescope (SALT), which contributed to the spectral observations of the event.
It's insane to think just how significant the recent discovery of gravitational waves has been to our understanding of the universe. The LIGO detector is not yet at full strength. But with no light escaping black holes, astronomers using traditional telescopes - which view the universe in the electromagnetic spectrum - couldn't see anything.
"It was clear as can be", says Blair. Neutron stars are more massive than the sun, but are just the size of a city. "But neutron stars are rich in detail". But because it can only travel as quickly as the finite speed of light, and that makes it impossible for things to react simultaneously, Dr. O'Shaughnessy explains, those gravitational changes propagate outward through the universe. A little over 100 years ago, Einstein first predicted gravitational waves as something that would happen throughout space-time as a result of dramatic events.
'The 12 hours that followed are inarguably the most exciting hours of my scientific life, ' he said.
"Before this event, it was like we were sitting in an IMAX theatre with blindfolds on", he says.