If you’ve been following developments in astronomy over the last few years, you may have heard about the so-called “crisis in cosmology,” which has astronomers wondering whether there might be something wrong with our current understanding of the Universe. This crisis revolves around the rate at which the Universe expands: measurements of the expansion rate in the present Universe don’t line up with measurements of the expansion rate during the early Universe. With no indication for why these measurements might disagree, astronomers are at a loss to explain the disparity.
The first step in solving this mystery is to try out new methods of measuring the expansion rate. In a paper published last week, researchers at University College London (UCL) suggested that we might be able to create a new, independent measure of the expansion rate of the Universe by observing black hole-neutron star collisions.
Continue reading “Black Hole-Neutron Star Collisions Could Finally Settle the Different Measurements Over the Expansion Rate of the Universe”
In theory, a black hole is easy to make. Simply take a lump of matter, squeeze it into a sphere with a radius smaller than the Schwarzschild radius, and poof! You have a black hole. In practice, things aren’t so easy. When you squeeze matter, it pushes back, so it takes a star’s worth of weight to squeeze hard enough. Because of this, it’s generally thought that even the smallest black holes must be at least 5 solar masses in size. But a recent study shows the lower bound might be even smaller.
Continue reading “Smallest, Closest Black Hole Ever Discovered is Only 1,500 Light-Years Away”
Imagine you are a neutron star. You’re happily floating in space, too old to fuse nuclei in your core anymore, but the quantum pressure of your neutrons and quarks easily keeps you from collapsing under your own weight. You look forward to a long stellar retirement of gradually cooling down. Then one day you are struck by a tiny black hole. This black hole only has the mass of an asteroid, but it causes you to become unstable. Gravity crushes you as the black hole consumes you from the inside out. Before you know it, you’ve become a black hole.
Continue reading “What's the Connection Between Stellar-Mass Black Holes and Dark Matter?”
A white dwarf isn’t your typical kind of star. While main sequence stars such as our Sun fuse nuclear material in their cores to keep themselves from collapsing under their own weight, white dwarfs use an effect known as quantum degeneracy. The quantum nature of electrons means that no two electrons can have the same quantum state. When you try to squeeze electrons into the same state, they exert a degeneracy pressure that keeps the white dwarf from collapsing.
Continue reading “Strange Green Star is the Result of a Merger Between two White Dwarfs”
As we continue to search for dark matter particles, one thing is very clear: they cannot be any of the elementary particles we’ve discovered so far. The particles would need to have mass, but interact with light only weakly. Of the known particles, neutrinos fit that description, but neutrinos have a tiny mass, and aren’t nearly enough to explain dark matter. Some other kind of particle must make up the majority of dark matter.
Continue reading “If Axions Explain Dark Matter, it Could be Possible to Detect Them Nearby Neutron Stars”
The Theory of Relativity predicted the existence of black holes and neutron stars. Einstein gets the credit for the theory because of his paper published in 1915, even though other scientists’ work helped it along. But regardless of the minds behind it, the theory predicted black holes, neutron stars, and the gravitational waves from their mergers.
It took about one hundred years, but scientists finally observed these mergers and their gravitational waves in 2015. Since then, the LIGO/Virgo collaboration has detected many of them. The collaboration has released a new catalogue of discoveries, along with a new infographic. The new infographic displays the black holes, neutron stars, mergers, and the other uncertain compact objects behind some of them.
Continue reading “Merging Black Holes and Neutron Stars. All the Gravitational Wave Events Seen So Far in One Picture”
In principle, creating a stellar-mass black hole is easy. Simply wait for a large star to reach the end of its life, and watch its core collapse under its own weight. If the core has more mass than 2 – 3 Suns, then it will become a black hole. Smaller than about 2.2 solar masses and it will become a neutron star. Smaller than 1.4 solar masses and it becomes a white dwarf.
Continue reading “Do neutron star collisions produce black holes?”
Neutron stars are the remnants of massive stars that explode as supernovae at the end of their fusion lives. They’re super-dense cores where all of the protons and electrons are crushed into neutrons by the overpowering gravity of the dead star. They’re the smallest and densest stellar objects, except for black holes, and possibly other arcane, hypothetical objects like quark stars.
When two neutron stars merge, we can detect the resulting gravitational waves. But some aspects of these mergers are poorly-understood. One question surrounds short-lived gamma-ray bursts from these mergers. Previous studies have shown that these bursts may come from the decay of heavy elements produced in a neutron star merger.
A new study strengthens our understanding of these complex mergers and introduces a model that explains the gamma rays.
Continue reading “New Simulation Shows Exactly What’s Happening as Neutron Stars Merge”
Are we alone in the universe?
It is one of the most profound questions posed in modern astronomy. But although our understanding of the cosmos has grown significantly, the question remains unanswered. We know that Earth-like planets are common, as are the building blocks necessary for terrestrial life, and yet we still haven’t found definitive evidence for life beyond Earth. Perhaps part of our problem is that we are mostly looking for life similar to our own. It is possible that alien life is so radically different from that of Earth it goes unnoticed.
Continue reading “Could There Be a Form of Life Inside Stars?”
When pulsars were first discovered in 1967, their rhythmic radio-wave pulsations were a mystery. Some thought their radio beams must be of extraterrestrial origin.
We’ve learned a lot since then. We know that pulsars are magnetized, rotating neutrons stars. We know that they rotate very rapidly, with their magnetic poles sending sweeping beams of radio waves out into space. And if they’re aimed the right way, we can “see” them as pulses of radio waves, even though the radio waves are steady. They’re kind of like lighthouses.
But the exact mechanism that creates all of that electromagnetic radiation has remained a mystery.
Continue reading “Why Pulsars Are So Bright”