Home Posts For The First Time Ever, Astronomers Witness A Black Hole Sucking A Neutron Star
For The First Time Ever, Astronomers Witness A Black Hole Sucking A Neutron Star

For The First Time Ever, Astronomers Witness A Black Hole Sucking A Neutron Star

For the first time, astronomers witnessed a black hole swallowing a neutron star, the universe's most dense object, in a split-second gulp.

They saw the same thing ten days later on the other side of the universe: a neutron star — a teaspoon of which would weigh a billion tons — orbiting ever closer to the ultimate point of no return, a black hole, until they collide and the neutron star is gone in a gobble.

Astronomers witnessed the last 500 orbits of neutron stars before they were swallowed, a process that took far less than a minute and briefly generated as much energy as all visible light in the observable universe.

“It was just a big quick (gulp), gone,” said study co-author Patrick Brady, an astrophysicist at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee, explaining that the black hole “gets a nice dinner of a neutron star and makes itself just a little bit more massive.”

The collisions' bursts of energy were discovered when detectors on Earth detected the mergers' gravitational waves, which are cosmic energetic ripples soaring through space and time, as first theorized by Albert Einstein, and each came from more than one billion light-years away.

While astronomers have previously observed gravitational waves from two black holes colliding with each other and two neutron stars colliding with each other, this is the first time they have observed one of each colliding with each other.

Neutron stars are the corpses of massive stars, what remains after a big star dies in a supernova explosion, and are so dense that they have 1.5 to two times the mass of our sun but are only 6 miles (10 kilometers) wide, according to Brady. Some black holes, known as stellar black holes, are created when an even bigger star collapses into itself, creating something with such powerful gravity.

Scientists believe that there should be a lot of these neutron star-black hole pairings in our galaxy, but they have yet to find one.

“This is very cool,” said Johns Hopkins University astrophysicist Marc Kamionkowski, who was not involved in the research but believes it will aid astronomers in predicting how common these pairings are.

@borenbears is Seth Borenstein's Twitter handle.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education provides funding to the Associated Press Health and Science Department, but the AP is solely responsible for all content.

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