Neil Cornish Talks About Black Holes and Neutron Stars

Neil Cornish, professor in the Department of Physics, addressed the subject of extreme gravity with near childlike exuberance and entrancement. Cornish discussed his involvement with the study of extreme gravity and the effect that his research could have on future studies of the universe and the forces that act within it. On Tuesday, March 7, to a crowded Hager Auditorium, Cornish briefly reviewed the involvement that his team had with the discovery of gravitational waves and explained where that discovery will direct the scientific community’s future research.


Cornish jumped into his main discussion topic by presenting the gravitational waves detected in 2015 as sound files. The sound files helped illustrate techniques used by researchers to isolate the wave profiles of the dual gravitational wave detections using a method developed by MSU’s eXtreme Gravity Institute. He recalled the research done by his peers and himself to uncover the existence of gravitational waves. Cornish stated, “We would literally just sit there at the detector’s side listening with headphones, like Jodie Foster listening for aliens, and it just rumbled away.”

Moving on in his lecture, Cornish focused in on two topics in particular, an x-ray camera and the Event Horizon Telescope. Both projects are set be put in motion later this year.


The x-ray camera is scheduled to be attached to the International Space Station sometime around May. Cornish proudly announced, “It’s the fastest x-ray camera in the world.” The camera will allow scientists like Cornish to track the patterns of neutron stars. In addition, the x-ray camera will help scientists to understand not only what neutron stars are made of, but also what extreme gravity can do to matter. “We’re always trying to figure out, what are neutron stars made of, are they actually made of neutrons?” Cornish said. “We don’t know what happens to the matter when it’s crushed down like this.”


The Event Horizon Telescope elicited a notable amount of excitement from Cornish. By using select telescopes placed all around the globe, Cornish and his team are able to focus in on the black hole in the center of the Milky Way in an attempt to snap a picture of the matter swirling around it. Cornish said, “we’ll be able to test Einstein’s theory because there’s a wild warping of light happening in the black hole.” According to Cornish, using the Event Horizon Telescope “Measurements are being taken right now, this week.” However, the results from the measurements will not be available for another nine months; the data must be processed within computers to create a completely rendered picture of the Milky Way’s own black hole.