Detecting a ‘Bling Nova’

Detecting a ‘Bling nova’ and why do whales and dolphins have relatively big brains like humans?

In the short window of time between the VIRGO gravitational wave detector being switched on, in Pisa in Italy, and the LIGO detector, in the US, being switched off for an upgrade, the teams detected the signal they had hoped for, but dared not expect. A space-altering gravity ripple, followed by a gamma ray burst signal and when the World’s telescopes turned to the Hydra constellation they also saw an optical flash. These signals were from two neutron stars, having danced a death spiral and crashed into one another 130 million years ago. It’s been nicknamed a ‘Bling Nova’, because this massively energetic reaction, is where lots of the gold, platinum and heavy metals in the Universe come from.

Whale and Dolphin Brain-size
A large brain, relative to our size, underpins sophisticated social structure in humans. Things like language, shared goals, teaching, consensus decision-making and empathy require great intelligence. Whales and dolphins also have exceptionally large and anatomically sophisticated brains. But until recently it has been unclear whether large brain size is linked to social structure in these marine mammals. A recent study suggests that large brains might similarly have arisen to provide the capacity to learn in response to the challenges of social living.

Picture: Artist’s concept of the explosive collision of two neutron stars. Credit: Illustration by Robin Dienel courtesy of the Carnegie Institution for Science

Presenter: Roland Pease
Producer: Fiona Roberts

Available now

26 minutes


Gravitational Waves

Gravity and ripples in the fabric of space time - what do these mean for us?