ASU researcher part of secretive team that investigated neutron star collision

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It’s a scientific achievement that’s being hailed as a “new era for astrophysics,” and a researcher at Arizona State University was part of the secretive international team that investigated it. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5) It’s a scientific achievement that’s being hailed as a “new era for astrophysics,” and a researcher at Arizona State University was part of the secretive international team that investigated it. (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
TEMPE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -

It’s a scientific achievement that’s being hailed as a “new era for astrophysics,” and a researcher at Arizona State University was part of the secretive international team that investigated it.

In August, scientists detected the collision of two neutron stars. Neutron stars are the dense remnants of stars left over from an explosive supernova.

It marked the first time in history where scientists witnessed a cosmic event with both traditional telescopes and huge lasers that detect gravitational waves.

The result: a whole new way to view the universe. And at least temporarily, one big secret to keep.

[RELATED: After watching a 130-million-year-old cosmic collision, scientists find the origin of gold]

“This is like the biggest event of the year -- perhaps of the decade. Something we had to be secretive about for about a month,” said ASU associate professor Nathaniel Butler. “Couldn't tell anybody. Couldn't tell reporters. Had to keep our doors closed.”

One of the conditions of being on the team of researchers privy to information from the gravitational wave detector -- the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory or LIGO -- was a strict non-disclosure agreement, he said.

Butler was able to break his silence after the journal Nature published his team’s research Monday, one of 20 articles published in three journals on the cosmic explosion.

The article that Butler co-authored along with 33 others focuses on the X-ray data from the explosion.

The measurements help confirm the existence of gravitational waves, something Albert Einstein first theorized 100 years ago, he said.

The star-to-star merger also reveals the source of heavy metals like gold and platinum.

Butler says scientists have known that most of the elements humans are made of -- lighter elements like oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen – came from supernovae. But the source of metals on the Periodic Table heavier than iron have been somewhat of a mystery.

[RELATED: Scientists witness huge cosmic crash, find origins of gold]

“What a neutron star is is just neutrons,” he said. “So when you blow the thing up, neutrons fly everywhere and suddenly you're building up these rare metals.”

“These two neutron stars merged and exploded and so you have plumes of gold flying out of that system in that far-away galaxy,” Butler said.

He quickly added, “It's not going to reach us anytime soon, but it's there.”

NASA says this explosion forged enough gold to match the mass of 200 Earths and enough platinum for the mass of 500 Earths.

[RELATED: What cosmic crash confirmed: Einstein was as good as gold]

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This once-uncompromising "California guy" got his first taste of Arizona in 2015 while covering spring training baseball for his former station. The trip spanned just three days, but Derek quickly decided Phoenix should be his next address. He joined CBS 5 and 3TV four months later, in August 2015. Before packing his bags for the Valley of the Sun, Derek spent nearly four years at XETV in San Diego, where he was promoted to Weekend Anchor and Investigative Reporter. Derek chaired the Saturday and Sunday 10 p.m. newscasts, which regularly earned the station's highest ratings for a news program each week. Derek’s investigative reporting efforts into the Mayor Bob Filner scandal in 2013 sparked a "governance crisis" for the city of San Diego and was profiled by the region’s top newspaper. Derek broke into the news business at WKOW-TV in Madison, WI. He wrote, shot, edited, and presented stories during the week, and produced newscasts on the weekends. By the end of his stint, he was promoted to part-time anchor on WKOW’s sister station, WMSN. Derek was born in Los Angeles and was named the “Undergraduate Broadcast Journalism Student of the Year” in his graduating class at USC. He also played quads in the school’s famous drumline. When not reporting the news, Derek enjoys playing drumset, sand volleyball, and baseball.

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