Unprecedented star collision observed through light and gravitational waves

Unprecedented star collision observed through light and gravitational waves

Those neutron stars might have collapsed into a black hole after they merged, scientists say. A light-year is 5.88 trillion miles.

Evidence of the neutron star merger, announced Monday, comes two years after Cal State Fullerton researchers and others recorded evidence of the merger of two black holes.

Nine days after the gravitational waves were detected by LIGO and Virgo, Troja's team finally picked up a faint X-ray signal - one so weak only the space-based Chandra X-ray Observatory could detect it. On the right, NASA's orbiting Chandra X-ray Observatory also detected the source near the galaxy.

Officials at the National Science Foundation, LIGO, MIT, Caltech, and other institutions have now made a second groundbreaking announcement, the detection of gravitational waves from another astronomical event, the merging of two neutron stars.

The gravity from a neutron star is nearly as intense as a black hole, and when two of these powerful objects come into contact with each other they start a dramatic dance, swirling around drawing each other closer together until, eventually, they merge.

With help from thousands of scientists across the globe, LIGO was then able to use other ground-based telescopes to confirm the fading after-glow of a typical gamma-ray burst. As they drew closer and orbited faster, the stars eventually broke apart and merged, producing both a gamma-ray burst and a rarely seen flare-up called a "kilonova".

The collision was fast and violent, likely spawning a black hole.

This was the first ever detection of colliding neutron stars. One teaspoon of material from a neutron star would weigh about 10 million tons.

Because they were the first to find the event, the Carnegie astronomers had time for additional observations.

Though the ongoing analysis of the neutron star collision is sure to yield a variety of surprises, many scientists were amused by the familiarity of the event. The first detections of gravitational waves opened the door for this so-called multi-messenger astronomy. It is thought that at least some gamma ray bursts are associated with supernovae, however a subclass known as short-GRBs were hypothesised to result from the merger of binary neutron stars, although not everyone agreed on this theory.

The resultant gravitational waves are ripples in space and time.

Professor Matthew Bailes, Director of The ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Waves (OzGrav) and at Swinburne University of Technology, says: "This was the first time that any cosmic event was observed through both light it emitted and the gravitational ripples it caused in the fabric of space-time".

Camilo continues: "Deep understanding in this area will come from continued study of the electromagnetic radiation from the remnant of GW170817, which we expect to evolve over weeks and months; and from the detailed study of more such events to follow in the years to come". Because they are so dense, the gravity at the surface of a neutron star is billions of times stronger than the gravity at the surface of the Earth. The astronomers also obtained the earliest spectra of the collision, which may allow them to explain how numerous universe's heavy elements were created-a decades old question for astrophysicists.

Among other things, it is hoped that data from neutron star collisions will allow the definitive calculation of the rate at which the cosmos is expanding, which in turn will tell us how old it is and how much matter it contains. "These neutron star mergers are believed to be one of the most important sites where heavy elements are made". Two years ago you heard voices coming from somewhere around you.

"With these observations we are not just learning what happens when neutron stars collide, we're also learning something fundamental about the nature of the Universe", said Julie McEnery of the Fermi gamma ray space telescope project.

For example, the collision created about 200 Earth-sized masses of gold and 500 Earth-sized masses of platinum.

The kilonova was clearly evident from the DECam images taken in multiple wavelengths as soon as the sky became dark enough for the target region to be observed.

"We could very well have been witnessing a collision that led to the production of an amount of gold comparable to the entire mass of the earth", Riles said.

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