The first detection of the merger of two neutron stars, GW170817, was a singular event in modern astronomy. The event was observed in gravitational waves  and across the electromagnetic spectrum  at gamma-ray, optical, infra-red, X-ray, and radio wavelengths. The information from these “multi-messenger” observations led to, among many other discoveries: the identification of the host galaxy of the neutron star merger; strong evidence linking neutron star mergers to so-called “short-hard” gamma-ray bursts; support for the theory that neutron star mergers are responsible for producing a significant fraction of the gold and other heavy elements in the Universe; limits on the speed of gravitational waves relative to the speed of light; and an independent measurement of the Hubble constant which governs the expansion of the Universe.
The Centre for Gravitational Astrophysics contributed to the detection of this gravitational wave event. A day after GW170817, the SkyMapper telescope located at ANU’s Siding Springs Observatory began observing the optical afterglow of GW170817. SkyMapper was the first telescope to report the temperature of the fireball following the event which was much hotter than expected. The results of SkyMapper’s observations were reported alongside 13 other Australian telescopes and partner observatories in .
We are ready to follow up electromagnetic counterparts to future detections of gravitational waves and contribute to the new science of multi-messenger gravitational-wave astronomy. Alongside SkyMapper, a new infra-red telescope capable of rapid follow-up of gravitational wave events is being designed and built by ANU astronomers.
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