Massive star has been spotted exploding into a binary neutron star
Amazing images capture the birth of a DOUBLE star system for the first time: Scientists say the two celestial objects are so close together that they are doomed to collide
- The massive star exploded into a surprisingly faint supernova
- Observations suggest that the dying star had an unseen companion
- This companion siphoned away most of the star’s mass before it exploded
A massive star’s unusual death could have created a compact binary neutron star.
The huge star exploded into a surprisingly faint supernova on the outskirts of a spiral galaxy located 920 million light years away from us.
Observations suggest that the dying star had an unseen companion which siphoned away most of the star’s mass before it exploded.
This is the first time scientists have witnessed the birth of a binary system.
Because this new neutron star and its companion are so close together, they will ultimately spiral into each other and merge in a spectacular explosion.
Neutron star mergers are believed to generate ripples in the fabric of space-time known as ‘gravitational waves’.
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The three panels represent moments before, when and after the faint supernova iPTF14gqr, visible in the middle panel, appeared in the outskirts of a spiral galaxy located 920 million light years away from us. The massive star that died in the supernova left behind a neutron star in a very tight binary system.
A supernova occurs when a massive star – at least eight times the mass of the sun – exhausts its nuclear fuel.
This causes the core to collapse and then rebound outward in a powerful explosion.
After the star’s outer layers have been blasted away, all that remains is a dense neutron star.
This is an exotic star about the size of a city but containing more mass than the sun.
Usually, a lot of material – many times the mass of the sun – is observed to be blasted away in a supernova.
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However, the event that astronomers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) observed, dubbed iPTF 14gqr, ejected matter only one fifth of the sun’s mass.
‘We saw this massive star’s core collapse, but we saw remarkably little mass ejected,’ said lead researcher Mansi Kasliwal.
‘We call this an ultra-stripped envelope supernova and it has long been predicted that they exist.
‘This is the first time we have convincingly seen core collapse of a massive star that is so devoid of matter’, Dr Kasliwal said.
Neutron star mergers are believed to generate ripples in the fabric of space-time known as ‘gravitational waves’. Scientists saw a powerful beam of light from the first confirmed neutron star merger – 130 million years after it started its journey across the stars (artist’s impression)
WHAT ARE NEUTRON STARS?
Neutron stars are the collapsed, burnt-out cores of dead stars.
When large stars reach the end of their lives, their core will collapse, blowing off the outer layers of the star.
This leaves an extremely dense object known as a neutron star, which squashes more mass than is contained in the sun into the size of a city.
A neutron star typically would have a mass that’s perhaps half-a-million times the mass of the Earth, but they’re only about 20 kilometres (12 miles) across.
A handful of material from this star would weigh as much as Mount Everest.
They are very hot, perhaps a million degrees, highly radioactive, and have incredibly intense magnetic fields.
This makes them arguably the most hostile environments in the Universe today, according to Professor Patrick Sutton, head of Cardiff University’s gravitational physics department.
The dense objects, in particular their cores, are key to our understanding of the universe’s heavy elements.
Theoretical modelling guided the intepretation of these observations.
This allowed the observers to infer the presence of dense material surrounding the explosion.
‘By combining observations and theory together, we can learn so much more about these amazing events’, said Anthony Piro from the Carnegie Institute for Science.
Researchers believe that the mass must have been stolen by a compact companion star, such as a white dwarf, neutron star, or black hole.
The neutron star that was left behind from the supernova must have then been born into orbit with this compact companion.
WHAT ARE GRAVITATIONAL WAVES?
Scientists view the the universe as being made up of a ‘fabric of space-time’.
This corresponds to Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, published in 1916.
Objects in the universe bend this fabric, and more massive objects bend it more.
Gravitational waves are considered ripples in this fabric.
Gravitational waves are considered ripples in the fabric of spacetime. They can be produced, for instance, when black holes orbit each other or by the merging of galaxies
They can be produced, for instance, when black holes orbit each other or by the merging of galaxies.
Gravitational waves are also thought to have been produced during the Big Bang.
Scientists first detected the shudders in space-time in 2016 and the discovery was hailed the ‘biggest scientific breakthrough of the century’.
Experts say gravitational waves open a ‘new door’ for observing the universe and gaining knowledge about enigmatic objects like black holes and neutron stars.
Such events are thought to produce the heavy elements in our universe, such as gold, platinum, and uranium.
The event was first seen at Palomar Observatory as part of the intermediate Palomar Transient Factory (iPTF), a nightly survey of the sky to look for transient, or short-lived, cosmic events like supernovae.
This find follows a neutron star discovery in July that ‘will be remembered as one of the most studied astrophysical events in history’.
Scientists saw a powerful beam of light from the first confirmed neutron star merger – 130 million years after it started its journey across the stars.
The binary neutron star merger GW170817 occurred in a galaxy named NGC 4993.
It was first detected in 2017 by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Adv-LIGO), and by Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) observations.
When the two colossal stars merged, they generated ripples in the fabric of space-time known as ‘gravitational waves’.
These waves were picked up by two extremely sensitive detectors in Washington and Louisianna on August 17 2017.
Two seconds later, a burst of gamma rays from the colliding stars was picked by Nasa’s Fermi space telescope.
The research into GW170817 supports the long-held belief that when two neutron stars merge together, it triggers an ejection of radioactive material.
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