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Cosmic Battle Between Two Neutron Stars

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  • Cosmic Battle Between Two Neutron Stars

    Science

    LIGO Catches a Cosmic Battle Between Two Neutron Stars

    Popular MechanicsJanuary 9, 2020, 9:23 AM EST
    Photo credit: GODDARD SPACE FLIGHT CENTER/NASA

    From Popular Mechanics
    • LIGO has picked up on gravitational waves emitted during a celestial scuffle between two neutron stars.
    • Because only one of the observatories two facilities was operational, the team wasn't able to locate the collision or spot the accompanying burst of light.
    • This is the second such tussle captured by the observatory—gravitational waves from the first collision were observed in 2017.

    The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves, or ripples in the fabric of spacetime, emitted during two stars' collision as it rocketed toward Earth on April 25, 2019.

    Found during the instrument's third run, a bright flash occurred during the latest collision, too, but only one of LIGO's two facilities was operational at the time, and Virgo—another gravitational wave facility—didn't detect anything. Unfortunately, the team wasn't able to narrow down where in the cosmos the stellar scrum took place and missed the characteristic burst of light.

    They were, however, able to calculate the likely combined mass of the two stars, which topped out at a whopping 3.4 times larger than the sun, according to an announcement made this week at the American Astronomical Society meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii. The researchers also determined that the stellar melee likely took place between 290 and 720 million light-years away.

    Because the combined mass of the recently merged stars was so much heavier than that of the first discovery, researchers suspect that they may have skipped the step of becoming a super-massive neutron star and collapsed straight into a black hole.

    This isn't the first time scientists has spotted an interstellar scuffle like this. In 2017, researchers identified gravitational waves emitted during the collision of two other neutron stars, but were able to locate where the waves originated and spotted the flash that accompanied the stellar scrap.


    Researchers have, on multiple occasions, observed gravitational waves caused by collisions between black holes throughout the universe. These observations are becoming more common, and researchers are thrilled to have the data.
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