What happens when neutron stars collide?

This artistic interpretation of a neutron star merger depicts the emission of particle jets, gravitational waves, and gamma rays .


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Cosmic Rumbles and Fireworks from Merging Neutron Stars

Monday, June 1, 7:30 pm
Morrison Planetarium

Featuring Dr. Colleen A. Wilson-Hodge (NASA/MSFC), Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) Principal Investigator

Neutron stars are the remnants of supernova explosions. These stars have the mass of our Sun packed into a package the size of a city. When two of these tiny stars spiral in and crash into each other, the first evidence that humans can detect are gravitational waves and a short gamma-ray burst. Gravitational waves are ripples in space time, predicted by Einstein in his general theory of relativity. Gamma-ray bursts are the “birth-cry” of black holes. On August 17, 2017, gravitational waves were detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational wave Observatory (LIGO) and 1.7 seconds later, NASA’s Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM) detected a short gamma-ray burst.

Dr. Wilson-Hodge will tell the story of the gamma-ray burst discovery with Fermi GBM, illustrating the exciting physics that we have learned from this single event, along with the many open questions that still remain. she will describe similar events, without gravitational wave counterparts, that we have found in past GBM data, along with efforts to find new coincident events.

About Colleen Wilson-Hodge

Colleen Wilson-Hodge studies some of the most energetic phenomena in the Universe.

Colleen Wilson-Hodge first became interested in astronomy in the third grade when she saw images of Jupiter from the Voyager spacecraft. She enjoyed looking at craters on the moon with her Dad and her small backyard telescope. In high school she wrote to Carl Sagan about careers in astronomy. He advised her to major in physics and math as an undergraduate rather than astronomy because those degrees were more versatile. She graduated with bachelor’s degrees in physics and math in 1992 from the University of Arkansas. While still an undergraduate, she began working for NASA at Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, AL. She completed her Ph.D. in 1999 at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

In 2005, she began to work on the Fermi Gamma-ray Burst Monitor (GBM), testing flight software and hardware. Fermi launched in 2008 and continues to provide exciting data. In 2016 she became the Fermi GBM Principal Investigator, leading the project team. In 2018 she and her team were named as winners of the Bruno Rossi Prize for "for the discovery of Gamma-rays coincident with a neutron-star merger gravitational wave event. This confirmed that short gamma-ray bursts are produced by binary neutron-star mergers and enabled a global multi-wavelength follow-up campaign."

When she is not doing astrophysics, Colleen loves to be outdoors, often running, hiking, or skiing. She ran a 100 mile race in September of 2017.