Толстый интернет-журнал
"Русский переплет"

Culture, Science, and Education Portal

Science Space  Culture General Discussion Scientific Discussion Seminars

News: The best of Russian Science and Technology
Under supervision of professor Vladimir M. Lipunov


Russian robot-telescope MASTER in Argentina detected Space Chernobyl

    brends crop


    Press release


    The first detection of the collision of neutron stars and optical KIONOVA explosion

    August 17, 2017

    (Birth of gravitational-wave astronomy)

    Neutron Stars Merging Discovery

    The gravitational-wave discovery of neutron-star merger on August 17, 2017, GW170817/GRB170817a, accompanied by a gamma-ray burst and optical "kilonova" is a triumph of our views about the evolution of matter in the Universe. Optical flash was discovered independently by several telescopes including instruments of MASTER global robotic NET. The discovery of a neutron-star merger at a distance of 40 Mpc is completely consistent with the first population-synthesis computations made 30 years ago at Moscow State University with the Scenario Machine.

    We can now conclude that a new science – gravitational-wave astronomy – was born.

    What happed on August 17, 2017?

    Three gravitational-wave antennas located in the USA (Louisiana, Hanford) and Italy (Pisa) detected practically simultaneously the collision of two neutron stars at a distance of 40 Megaparsecs. The coordinate error was about one hundred degrees. However, 2 seconds after that event the omnidirectional antenna of NASA’s Fermi gamma-ray observatory detected a short gamma-ray burst,. Which was later confirmed by European INTEGRAL and AGILE gamma-ray observatories.

    Further refining and correcting of the possible direction in the sky reduced the error box size to about 100 square degrees. After half a day several ground-based optical telescopes including one of the eight Russian robotic telescopes of the MASTER Global Robotic NET of Moscow State University located in Ands 2500 m about the sea level (Argentina, Observatory of National University of San Juan) detected an optical flash in the NGC 4993 galaxy. Why so fast?


    Fig.1. Localization of the merger of the binary neutron star. The two unconnected light-green areas show the initial error field based on the data from LIGO gravitational-wave antennas. The dark-blue oval area shows the error field of the gamma-ray burst GRB170817A determined by Fermi gamma-ray observatory. The semitransparent strip shows the error field obtained by the international team of researchers from Ioffe Physical-Technical Institute (St.-Petersburg, Russia) and University of California (Berkeley, USA) based on the data from Fermi and INTEGRAL gamma-ray observatories. The dark-green area shows the final localization of the event obtained with all the above data supplemented with the data from VIRGO gravitational-wave antenna. The right-hand part of the figure shows the optical images of the galaxy and kilonova obtained by MASTER Global Robotic NET of cosmic monitoring.


    Fig.2. The telescopes of MASTER Global Robotic NET obtained the first independent images of the NGC 4993 galaxy after the reported detection of gravitational-wave signal GW170817/ G298048 by three LIOGO-Virgo antennas (Abbot et al., 2017). On these images the optical transient MASTER OT J130948.10-232253//SSS17 was later detected, which represents a new type of astronomical explosions - Kilonova. The Russian flags indicate the locations of the telescopes of MASTER Global Robotic NET ( http://observ.pereplet.ru ). The two American and one Italian flags indicate the locations of LIGO/VIRGO gravitational-wave antennas.

    For example, the telescopes of the 20th century could not detect optical emission of the most powerful explosions in the Universe – gamma-ray bursts – for 30 years. This is not surprising given that it would take several weeks to observe the entire error ~100 square-degrees large error box of GW 170817 not to say about processing the acquired images.

    How could a similar task be achieved with several hours? The answer is simple – this became possible because of the revolution in the speed of search telescopes that occurred in the past 20 years. The capabilities of such telescopes increased hundredfold! Now the fastest robotic telescopes are capable to observe the entire sly in a week. In the 20th century such a task would take several decades to achieve. And one has not only to obtain the images, but also detect all new objects that appear on them!

    Hence the event of August 17, 2017 was a result of a combination of two technological revolutions: physicists learned how to determine distances with thousand times better precision compared to 20th century and astronomers made robotic telescopes capable of observing sky fields and detect new objects at a thousand times higher speed.


    Fig 3. Chronology of the GW170817/GRB170817/SSS17/MASTER OTJ130948.10-232253.3 discovery


    Fig.4. Robotic telescope of MASTER NET at Observatorio Nacional Felix Aguilar (National University of San Juan, Argentina), June, 2016. Right to left: Evgeny Grabovskoi, Igor Gorbunov, Prof. Vladimir Lipunov (head of the project), Ricardo Podesta – Director of OAFA, Dr. Carlo Safe (Instituto de Ciencias Astronómicas, de la Tierra y del Espacio, San Juan) and Federico Podesta (OAFA). MASTER robotic telescope was installed with the support from Sergei Mikhailovich Bodrov (AO «Optika»).


    Fig.5. Composite image of the explosion of August 17, 2017 in the NGC 4993 galaxy obtained on MASTER telescopes in South African and Argentina.

    Neutron stars represent the first class of astronomical objects that were predicted theoretically and confirmed by observations. In 1932 the Soviet physicist Lev Davydovich Landau suggested that there must exist giant atomic nuclei with masses greater than the solar mass and with sizes of about 10 km. This happed even before the discovery of the neutron by James Chadwick. Two years later, in 1934, the American astrophysicists Walter Baade and Fritz Zwicky called these giant nuclei neutron stars and suggested that these stars are born as a result of catastrophic collapse (gravitational contraction), which, in turn, is accompanied by a supernova explosion. Baade and Zwicky pointed out the Crab nebula, which formed as a result of a supernova explosion observed by Chinese astronomers in 1054. And it was in the Crab nebula that the youngest radio pulsar – a rapidly rotating neutron star – was discovered after 35 years.

    In 1966 the Soviet scientists Yakov Borisovich Zel’dovich and Igor Dmitrievich Novikov (1966) found the physical process, which could make these very small objects (compared to stars) with radii of about 10 km bright sources of electromagnetic radiation. This mechanism – infall of surrounding matter onto the neutron star – was suggested by Iosif Samuilovich Shklovsky (1967) to explain the nature of the brightest x-ray source Sco X-1. Almost at the same time Nikolai Semenovich Kardashev (1964) and the Italian astrophysicist Franco Pancini (1967) found another source of energy of a magnetized neutron star – the rotational energy of the star accumulated during its collapse. Thus neutron stars born at the point of the pen became a scientific hypothesis, which was directly confirmed after the discovery of radio pulsars by the British radio astronomer Antony Hewish, (1974; Nobel Prize 1971) and x-ray pulsars (Riccardo Giacconi, Nobel Prize 2002).

    After the discovery of a binary radio pulsar by the Australian radio astronomers Alan Hulse and Joseph Taylor (Nobel Prize 1993) it became clear that neutron-star collisions should occur in the Universe because the merger time of this binary was found to be smaller than its age (Brumberg, Novikov, Shakura, et al., 1975).

    The process of collision of two neutron star - these supermassive atomic nuclei- resembles the collision of elementary particles in colliders. However, the energy released in this peculiar cosmic collider is incomparably greater. In fact, collisions of neutron stars long with collisions of black holes, which were discovered two years ago (this discovery was recently awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for 2017), is the most powerful process in the Universe, which is accompanied by a gravitational-wave pulse. That is why Kip Thorne – the chief ideologist of the project - started promoting the idea of LIGO gravitational-wave detector back in 1980ies.


    Photo 1. The 2017 Nobel Prize Winners physics. The Nobel Prize was awarded for the discovery of gravitational waves in 2015.

    However, a question immediately arose: how often do such processes occur in the Universe? Or, putting this in terms of particle physics, one had to compute the probability of collisions of relativistic stars in the Universe – the cross-section of the most powerful cosmic reactions.

    The first attempts of estimating the neutron-star merger rate in our Galaxy based on general views about the evolution of binary systems up to the formation of relativistic stars proved to be rather approximate: 10-4 - 10-6 mergers/year. Why? Because the merging rate is equal to the product of many difficult-to-estimate probability factors like those appearing in Drake’s formula for the number of habitable planets in our Galaxy.

    Fortunately, in early 1980-ies young Soviet astrophysicists Viktor Kornilov and Vladimir Lipunov, who had just finished their post-graduates studies at Sternberg Astronomical Institute of Moscow State University, invented a new theoretical method for the study of the Universe – the Scenario Machine. The main idea of the Scenario Machine was to develop a computer model of our Galaxy and then of the entire Universe. In such Simulated Universe simulated binaries were born continuously, which lived in accordance with our theoretical views about the evolution of binary systems. Of course, these underlying concepts might not be very accurate, but even now no accurate model is available. The initial parameters of binary systems were sampled randomly using what mathematicians call the Monte-Carlo method. The young astrophysicists used various scenarios of the evolution of binary stars trying to chose such evolution parameters that would best explain the observed stages of the evolution of binary systems. I.e., the simulated Universe must at a certain stage contain objects like Cyg X-1 – a black hole with a blue supergiant.

    The Scenario Machine for computing the scenarios of the evolution of binary stars was a decade ahead of Western research in this field. This happened because of the unprecedented concentration of astrophysical astrophysical thought around one of the creators of Soviet nuclear weapons – Academician and – dreadful to think – triple Hero of Socialist Labor - Yakov Borisovich Zel’dovich. Even the future ideologue of the LIGO project and now a Nobel Prize Winner - Kip Stepanovich Thorne (this is how he was called in the team of Yakov Borisovich Zel’dovich), must have gained this idea at seminars held by Yakov Zel’dovich (now Zel’dovich All-Moscow Seminar of Astrophysicists), whom he visited regularly since early 1960-ies. Indeed, the idea of gravitational-wave antenna was suggested by Soviet physicists Pustovoit and Gertsenshtein in early 1960-ies. It was at Zel’dovich’s seminar that Kip Thorne met Vladimir Borisovich Braginsky – the head of the team of researchers of the Faculty of Physics of Moscow State University, which made an indispensable contribution to the success of the gravitational-wave experiment. (See http://www.pereplet.ru/lipunov/372.html#372 ; http://www.pereplet.ru/lipunov/368.html#368 about the contribution of Soviet researchers to the first detection of gravitational waves on September 14, 2015).

    During one of his visits Kip Thorne learned about the new tool developed by Russian researchers and asked them to compute the probability of collisions of neutron stars.

    This is how the probability of collision of neutron stars in our Milky-Way Galaxy came to be computed for the first time. It turned out that such event should occur once in 10 000 years in our stellar home. This was found out in 1987, when the former Zel’dovich’s post-graduate student developed the new Scenario Machine, now together with his graduate and post-graduate students (V.M.Lipunov, V.M.Postnov, and M.E.Prokhorov, 1987). It was now very easy to tell Kip Stepanovich what should be the “range” of his gravitational-wave antenna to get Nobel Prize for the discovery of gravitational waves. The antenna should reach such a distance that the sphere of the corresponding radius would contain 10 000 galaxies. In this case the antenna should detect gravitational waves at least once a year. The radius of this sphere turned out to be equal to 20 Megaparsecs or 60 million light-years. However, it would be better to detect at least several events each year and hence the interferometer horizon should be increased at least to 40 Megaparsecs to record several events each year.

    Somewhat later the American astrophysicist Hills (1990) and Soviet astrophysicists Tutukov and Yungel’son (1993) obtained similar estimates. In 1999 Hans Bethe – a Nobel Prize Winner (1967) and one of the discoverers of solar thermonuclear energy – made the last attempt to estimate the merger rate analytically.

    We show in Fig. 3 a very expressive plot – predicted neutron-star merger rate as a function of the antenna sensitivity horizon (Lipunov et al., 2017a). The vertical gray stripe indicates the distance to the NGC 4993 galaxy with the present-day error interval. The dashed lines show the prediction of the Scenario Machine. It is evident from the figure that the discovery of colliding neutron stars at a distance of 40 Megaparsecs (120 million light-years) agrees excellently with the results of the computations made in 1987! Note that a number of researchers in other countries reported 10-100 times lower merger rate estimates.

    Fig. 6. Neutron-star merger rate as a function of the sensitivity horizon (see Fig.6. in Lipunov & Pruzghinskaya, 2014) with the GW170817 event superimposed. The dashed lines show the results of the computations made with the Scenario Machine. The red asterisk shows the lower limit of 2012, which was consistent with our predictions. The vertical gray strip shows the estimated distance to the NGC4993 galaxy with real error limits:
    41+/- 5.8 Mpc. The horizontal gray strip shows the prediction if the Scenario Machine – several events/year! Excellent agreement given that gravitational-wave antennas had been operating for about 1/3 year (Abbot et al., 2017)!

                   Thus on August 17, 2017 at 12:41:04.44 UT LIGO/VIRGO gravitational-wave observatories (USA-Italy) detected the collision of two neutron stars at a distance of 120 million light-years from the Earth. 
                   Two seconds later NASA’s Fermi and ESA’s Integral gamma-ray observatories detected a short pulse of gamma-ray radiation – a gamma-ray burst.
    After about 10 hours wide-field cameras of MASTER robotic telescope in Argentina acquired an image of the galaxy where the catastrophe occurred, and somewhat later MASTER telescopes and several American telescopes in neighboring Chile detected a new 17.5-magnitude object.  

    It is remarkable that the optical object discovered 12 hours after the merger in the NGC 4993 galaxy did not resemble any of the supernovas studied so far neither in behavior nor in brightness or spectrum. The soon acquired optical spectra of the object confirmed that the envelope of the kilonova expands at a velocity of 100 000 km/s, i.e., one third of the speed of light, which corresponds to the escape velocity at the surface of neutron stars.

    Thus on Agust 17, 2017 the astronomers and physicists observed almost simultaneously the merger if two neutron stars and its consequences in the NGC 4993 galaxy not only in the gravitational-wave channel, but also in several ranges of electromagnetic radiation from gamma- and x-ray radiation to ultraviolet, optical and infrared.

    Despite the unique nature of this event, the variety of experimental data already allows us to make important theoretical conclusions about the origin of binary neutron stars, their mergers, and accompanying bursts of electromagnetic radiation.

    Below I will tell you how the gravitational-wave, gamma-ray, and optical bursts were detected, how this event fits our views, and what new knowledge did this discovery bring.

                   There are several reasons why neutron-star merger was expected to be accompanied by electromagnetic radiation. Soviet astrophysicists Sergei Ivanovich Blinnikov and Igor Dnitrievich Novikov were the first to point out this connection in their paper published in 1984. In 1998 Professor Bogdan Paczynski (Princeton University) together with his post-graduate student found that after the collision of neutron star part of the nuclear matter may be ejected back into space. Nucleons – protons and neutrons – should then almost immediately begin to combine into heavy radioactive atoms of Mendeleev’s periodic table. Their decay should result in an optical burst several hours after the explosion. This burst will be weaker than the supernova explosion, but it still will be thousand times brighter than novas. That is why these explosions , which were then hypothetical, were called "Kilonovas". And it is this very sort of event that was first confidently discovered on August 17, 2017!

                   Beginning with the first gravitational-wave event recorded by LIGO interferometers (Abbot et al., 2016 , Lipuniv. Uspekhi Fiz. Nauk 2016), the MASTER Global Robotic Telescope NET has been taking active part in the search for optical emission of all detected LVC events (Lipunov et al., наблюдения GW 150914, 2016), thereby making the greatest contribution to the study of GW 150914 in the optical (Abbott 2016a,b). 
    On August 17, 2017 at 12:41:06.47 UT von Kienlin et al, 2017 reported that the Gamma Burst Monitor (GBM) installed onboard Fermi observatory recorded a short (2-sec long) pulse – a gamma-ray burst, - which occurred 2 seconds after the detection of the gravitational-wave event. 

    These discoveries and the subsequent observations showed quite conclusively that on August 17, 2017 the astronomers observed for the first time a collision of two neutron stars and its consequences in the NGC 4993 not just in the gravitational-wave channel, but also in several ranges of electromagnetic radiation from gamma- and x-ray radiation to ultraviolet, optical and infrared.

    Despite the unique nature of this event, the variety of experimental data already allows us to make important theoretical conclusions about the origin of binary neutron stars, their mergers, and accompanying burst of electromagnetic radiation (Lipunov et al., 2017b).


    The first information about possible coordinates of the neutron-star merger came from LIGO/VIRGO gravitational-wave antennas and the huge error box of Fermi gamma-ray observatory (see Fig. 2.) at about noon Unuiversal Time. At that time of all MASTER sites it was night only at Blagoveshchensk, but MASTER-Amur telescope was not operating because of weather conditions. Hours passed and the night shadow crossed Russia, but, as ill luck would have it, bad weather everywhere made it impossible to conduct observations. Only at 17:06:47 UT, i.e., 4.42 hours after the detection of the gravitational wave, the Sun was down in South Africa and our MASTER-SAAO telescope (South Africa Astronomical Observatory) automatically stared inspecting the huge (more than one thousand square degrees) error field in the sky. It was found out later that the galaxy where the event occurred went under the horizon rather soon before the telescope covered the corresponding area. At that time night fell on Canary Islands, where the Russian MASTER-IAC (IAC = Instituto Astrofisica di Canarias) is located.


    Photo 1. MASTER-SAAO (South Africa) and MASTER-IAC (Canary Islands, Spain) were the first telescope to start searching for the event location. However, at the time the error box was too large...

    At 20 hours 29 minutes 26 seconds UT (7.80 hours after the trigger) the telescope on Canary Islands started searching for the event location. At that time we already new the final (refined) and small (~100 square degrees) banana-shaped error box in the Southern Hemisphere, – but it was already under the horizon.

    It has to be said that starting from 15 hours UT the MASTER team was floating down the Moskva river on a boat enjoying the beautiful Moscow evening of August 17, 2017. I would stretch the truth should I not mention that it was the fellowship banquet dedicated to the "Exploding Universe in Robots’ Eyes" meeting (http://master.sai.msu.ru/ru/master2017/ ) .


    Photo 2. Participants of the international meeting "Exploding Universe in Robots’ Eyes" dedicated to the 15-year anniversary of the MASTER project ( http://master.sai.msu.ru/ru/master2017/ ).

    It was at on this boat, while drifting by the Bell Tower of Ivan the Great, that Dmitry Svinkin – a participant of the meeting representing the glorious Ioffe Physical-Technical Institute whispered me reading the LVC GCN circular reporting the discovery of the neutron-star merger!

    When we all returned to our homes Dmitry Svinkin used the triangulation method to refine the supposed coordinates of the catastrophe and the final error box, reducing it to less than 100 square degrees. We fell asleep without even knowing that our MASTER-ОАFA robotic telescope had already started observing it.

     яя Фото Photo 3. June 2016. Construction of the MASTER telescope in Argentina is almost finished. Observatorio Astronomico Felix Aguilar of National University of San Juan.

      The MASTER telescope in Argentina took its  first image at 22:54:18 UT, i.e., 10.22 hours after the collision and, as it turned out later, MASTER teklescopes missed the NGC 4993 galaxy. However, our wide-field cameras with a 380 sq. degrees large field of view covered almost the entire error box together with  the locus of the neutron-star collision.
    Fig.А.The first image of the NGC 4993 taken after the grand event of the collision of two neutron stars. The strokes in the right-hand image indicate the first post-event image of the NGC 4993. An analysis of the image yielded an upper limit of ~15.2m for  the brightness of the flash at that time. 
    Exactly one hour later, 6 seconds before the end of August 17, 2017 UT, MASTER telescopes came across the galaxy where the historical event had occurred. It was a good birthday present for MASTER. 
    Fig. B. Map of the Argentinian MASTER image of the final error box. It was 6 seconds before midnight UT when MASTER came across what remained of the merger of two neutron stars.
    And early in the morning, when we got up, we read the telegram from Swope telescope, which took the image of the kilonova in the NGC 4993 galaxy located at the very distance of 40 Mpc from the Earth. During the night our telescope independently! Detected the new object in the NGC 4993 galaxy.

    Fig. 5. The first image of the kilonova obtained wityh MASTER-OAFA robotic telescope in Argentina at 2017-08-17 23:59:54 Universal Time. The left image was taken on August 17, and the right-hand image shows the reference frame taken before several month. The middle image shows the difference frame. As is evident from the difference frame, a new object – a kilonova – has appeared in the galaxy.

         On the next night we were already taking images of the likely sky areas. 
    - When they came across this place in our manuscript the editors of the Astrophysical Journal Letters  asked us - Why, it could be just an ordinary supernova? 
                   We added a couple of phrases to our paper. The point is that at daytime on August 18 a telegram came reporting a very simple estimate of the expansion velocity of the shining ejected shell, and this velocity turned out to be equal to ~ 1/3 of the speed of light. It is about 10 times higher than the expansion velocity of the fastest supernova shell. Furthermore, a number of telescopes managed to acquire the spectra of the object and it turned out that the astronomers have never seen anything like that neither in supernova or nova spectra. It was a real Chernobyl! Hundreds of lines of superheavy chemical elements.
                   It became absolutely clear that the object in NGC 4993 was the very kilonova described by Bogdan Paczynski, which had to appear after the neutron-star merger. And during several nights that followed we, like dozens of telescopes worldwide, simply took images of the now famous object. However, the kilonova faded in just three days, and we could not see it any more in our 40-cm MASTER telescope – it was the smallest instrument that could stand on a par with giant telescopes (including the 4-meter VISTA telescope). And Swope telescope was the first to report the discovery. It has an interesting history. It is a 40-inch (1-meter) telescope installed in Chilean mountains in 1971 and upgraded to perform a sky survey aimed at the discovery of supernovas in the Southern sky. It was named after the astronomer Henrietta Swope – a teammate of the great astronomer Walter Baade, who funded the project.
                   This is how the greatest discovery in astronomy and physics was made. 
    October 16, 2017. Moscow, M.V.Lomonosov Moscow State University, Sternberg Astronomical Institute, 16-00

    Popular science publications of V.M.Lipunov on the subject of the paper.

    1) V.M.Lipunov, V mire dvoinykh zvezd (In the world of binary stars), Nauka: Moscow, 1986 (Bibluioteka Kvant). New edition, in Russian

    2) V.M.Lipunov, Iskusstvennaya Vselennaya (Similated Universe), Sorosovskii obrazovatel’nyi zhurnal, 1998, N6, 82-89, , in Russian


    3) V.M.Lipunov, Gravitatsionno-volnovoe nebo (Gravitational-wave sky). Sorosovskii obrazovatel’nyi zhurnal, 2000,N , 77-83, , in Russian


    4) V.M.Lipunov, "Voennaya taina astrofiziki " (Astrophysic’s top secret), Sorosovskii obrazovatel’nyi zhurnal, 1998, N5, c.84-92, , in Russian.


    Publications of the MASTER team and papers accepted by journals dedicated to the GW170817 event.

    The papers will be published on October 16, 2017.


    2. Lipunov et al., 2017 , MASTER optical detection of the first LIGO/Virgo neutron stars merging GW170817, ApJlett. https://doi.org/10.3847/2041-8213/aa92c0

    3. B. Abbott1 et al., A gravitational-wave standard siren measurement of the Hubble constant, Nature, accepted

    4. Lipunov, V.M. et al., Discovery of the neutron stars merger GW170817/GRB170817a and Binary Stellar Evolution, New Astronomy Review,

    5. Buckley, D. et al., A comparison between SALT/SAAO observations and kilonova models for AT 2017gfo: the first electromagnetic counterpart of a gravitational wave transient − GW170817, MNRAS 000, 1–4 (2017)


    Vladimir Lipunov<.I>




Philosophy of Mathematics: Actual Problems


MASTER Team Science Release: Discovery of the Black Hole Ergosphere?


The International Conference "The International Conference"


New domestic processor MCST-R500


MASTER is the first russian asteroid factory


New Russian "Volga"


Russian physicists awarded Nobel Prize


Fantastic hetch of Russian physician


Aurora on Moscow sky




The first and lonely russian robot-human




MASTER - is the first russian robotic telescope for observations Gamma-Ray Bursts


Optical Fiber Sensor at 900 C


Inflatable Equipment for Rescue and Descent


Isotopically Pure Materials from Russia


Hothouse Catastrophe.


First Man in Space - 41 Years Ago Sharp!





Редколлегия | О журнале | Авторам | Архив | Ссылки | Статистика | Дискуссия

Литературные страницы
Современная русская мысль
Навигатор по современной русской литературе "О'ХАЙ!"
Клуб любителей творчества Ф.М. Достоевского
Энциклопедия творчества Андрея Платонова 
Для тех кому за 10: журнал "Электронные пампасы"
Галерея "Новые Передвижники"

© 1999 "Русский переплет"
Дизайн - Алексей Комаров

Copyright (c) "Русский переплет"

--------------------------------------------------------------------- Rambler's Top100 Service