A Stronomer Had a Blockbuster Year
In addition to finding a cosmic source of neutrinos, they have discovered the fusion of two city-sized neutron stars, each one of them more massive than the Sun.  The discoveries were interpreted as proof that a "new era of multisensory astronomy" has arrived.
But what is multisensory astronomy?
In our daily lives we interpret the world around us based on various signals such as sound waves, light (a kind of electromagnetic wave) and skin pressure. Each of these signals can be carried by another "messenger". New messengers lead to new insights. So astronomers have eagerly welcomed a new set of messengers for their science.
For the greater part of the history of astronomy, scientists primarily studied signals transmitted by a messenger, electromagnetic radiation. These waves, which move through space and time, are described by their wavelength or the amount of energy in their particles, the photons.
Radio waves have photons with the lowest amount of energy and the longest wavelengths, followed by infrared and optical light at medium energies and wavelengths. X-rays and gamma rays have the shortest wavelengths and the highest energy.
But others also measure messengers:
- Cosmic rays: charged atomic particles and nuclei moving at the speed of light.
- Neutrinos: uncharged particles that perceive most of the universe as transparent.
- Gravitational waves: Wrinkles in the tissue of space and time.
And while some fields in astronomy have been researching these messengers for years, astronomers have only recently observed events from far beyond the Milky Way with more than one messenger at a time. In just a few months, the number of sources in which astronomers can assemble signals from different messengers has doubled.
Like a beach walk
Multimessenger astronomy is a natural evolution of astronomy. Scientists need more data to compile a complete picture of the objects they are studying and to match the theories they develop with their observations.
Astronomers have combined different wavelengths of photons to put together some of the mysteries of the universe. For example, the combination of radio and optical data played an important role in determining that the Milky Way 1951 is a spiral galaxy.
And astronomy continues to reveal great results about our universe with only one messenger, photons. So, if multisensory astronomy is just an evolutionary step in an incredible story of success, does that mean it's just a new buzzword?
We do not think so.
Imagine walking along an ocean beach. You will enjoy the sight of an incredible sunset, hear the waves, feel the sand under your feet and smell the salty air. Their combined senses form a more complete experience.
With multisensory astronomy, we hope to learn more from the universe by combining multiple messengers as we combine seeing, hearing, touching, and smelling.
But it's not always a picnic
The cultures of astronomers and particle physicists stand for different approaches to science. In multisensory astronomy these cultures collide.
Astronomy is a field of observation and not an experiment. We study astronomical objects that change over time (time domain astronomy), meaning that we often have only one chance to observe a transient astronomical event.
Until recently, most astronomers worked in the time domain in small teams on many projects once. We use resources such as the Astronomy Telegram or the Gamma Ray Coordination Network to communicate results quickly, even before scientific papers are submitted.
Since most of the expected sources of multisensory signals are transient astronomical events, it is a great effort to capture the messengers in addition to photons
Read more: The IceCube Observatory discovers Neutrino and discovers one Blazar as Source
Particle physicists have built large international collaborations to solve their most serious problems, including the Large Hadron Collider, the IceCube Neutrino Observatory and the Laser Interferometer Gravitative Wave Observatory (LIGO). Involving hundreds to thousands of researchers to share goals requires comprehensive role identification, strict communication guidelines, and many telephone conferences.
The need to respond to rapid changes in a multisensory source and the enormous efforts to capture multivariate signals require astronomy and particle physics must merge to produce the best of both cultures.
The Benefits of Multisensor Astronomy
While multisensor astronomy is a development of what astronomers and particle physicists have been doing for decades, the combined results are intriguing. 19659002] The discovery of gravitational waves from fusing neutron stars confirmed that these collisions produced much of the gold and platinum on Earth (and throughout the Universe). It also showed how these collisions cause (at least some) brief gamma-ray bursts – the source of these explosive events was a big open question in astronomy.
The first association of a neutrino with a single astronomical source provided insight into the formation of the most energetic particles in the universe. The multi-sensor astronomy reveals details about some of the most extreme conditions in our universe.
The multisensory perspective already provides more than the sum of its parts – and we can expect more surprising discoveries to be made in the future. Elite teams across Canada are already contributing to the growth of this young field, and multisensory astronomy promises to play an important role in our next decade of astronomical research in Canada and around the world.
This article was originally published about the conversation of Gregory Sivakoff and Daryl Haggard. Read the original article here.