By Ewen Callaway, Davide Castelvecchi, David Cyranoski, Elizabeth Gibney, Heidi Ledford, Jane J. Lee, Lauren Morello, Nicky Phillips, Quirin Schiermeier, Jeff Tollefson & Alexandra Witze
From political chaos to cases of sexual harassment, scientists have had a tough year. But there were also bright spots, including approval of a new type of cancer treatment and the detection of gravitational waves from a neutron-star collision.
When stars collide
This year marked the start of a new era in astronomy: one in which scientists can study celestial phenomena through the radiation they emit and the ripples they create in space-time. On 16 October, researchers revealed the first observations of the collision of two neutron stars. This confirmed detailed predictions of how such clashes created some mysterious γ-ray bursts and also most of the Universe’s heavier elements, including gold and uranium.
Physicists detected the collision’s ripples in the form of gravitational waves. And more than 70 teams of astronomers watched the aftermath using telescopes to monitor everything from γ-rays to the radio-frequency spectrum.
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