Nature’s Ultra-Rare Isotopes Can’t Hide from this New Particle Accelerator

The Facility for Rare Isotope Beams at the University of Michigan will study rare isotopes that last only fractions of a second. Image Credit: FRIB/University of Michigan.

A new particle accelerator at Michigan State University is producing long-awaited results. It’s called the Facility for Rare Isotope Beams, and it was completed in January 2022. Researchers have published the first results from the linear accelerator in the journal Physics Review Letters.

Continue reading “Nature’s Ultra-Rare Isotopes Can’t Hide from this New Particle Accelerator”

A Solar Gravitational Lens Will be Humanity's Most Powerful Telescope. What are its Best Targets?

mage of a simulated Earth, at 1024×1024 pixel resolution, at the distance of Proxima Centauri,at 1.3 pc, as projectedby the SGL to an image plane at 650 AU from the Sun. Credit: Toth H. & Turyshev, S.G.

One of the central predictions of general relativity is that a massive object such as a star, galaxy, or black hole can deflect light passing nearby. This means that light from distant objects can be gravitationally lensed by objects closer to us. Under the right conditions, gravitational lensing can act as a kind of natural telescope, brightening and magnifying the light of distant objects. Astronomers have used this trick to observe some of the most distant galaxies in the universe. But astronomers have also thought about using this effect a little closer to home.

Continue reading “A Solar Gravitational Lens Will be Humanity's Most Powerful Telescope. What are its Best Targets?”

The Milky Way is Surrounded by a Vast Graveyard of Dead Stars

Distribution of stellar remains in the Milky Way. Credit: University of Sydney

Everything dies in the end, even the brightest of stars. In fact, the brightest stars are the ones that live the shortest lives. They consume all the hydrogen they have within a few million years, then explode as brilliant supernovae. Their core remains collapse into a neutron star or black hole. These small, dark objects litter our galaxy, like a cosmic graveyard.

Continue reading “The Milky Way is Surrounded by a Vast Graveyard of Dead Stars”

Gravitational Waves Will Give Astronomers a new way to Look Inside Neutron Stars

Illustration showing the merger of two neutron stars. Credit: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab

It’s difficult to study neutron stars. They are light years away and only about 20 kilometers across. They are also made of the most dense material in the universe. So dense that atomic nuclei merge together to become a complex fluid. For years our understanding of the interiors was based on complex physical models and what little data we could gather from optical telescopes. But that’s starting to change.

Continue reading “Gravitational Waves Will Give Astronomers a new way to Look Inside Neutron Stars”

A Black Hole can Tear a Neutron Star Apart in Less Than 2 Seconds

Numerical simulation of a black hole-neutron star merger. Credit and ©: K. Hayashi (Kyoto University)

Almost seven years ago (September 14th, 2015), researchers at the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) detected gravitational waves (GWs) for the first time. Their results were shared with the world six months later and earned the discovery team the Noble Prize in Physics the following year. Since then, a total of 90 signals have been observed that were created by binary systems of two black holes, two neutron stars, or one of each. This latter scenario presents some very interesting opportunities for astronomers.

If a merger involves a black hole and neutron star, the event will produce GWs and a serious light display! Using data collected from the three black hole-neutron star mergers we’ve detected so far, a team of astrophysicists from Japan and Germany was able to model the complete process of the collision of a black hole with a neutron star, which included everything from the final orbits of the binary to the merger and post-merger phase. Their results could help inform future surveys that are sensitive enough to study mergers and GW events in much greater detail.

Continue reading “A Black Hole can Tear a Neutron Star Apart in Less Than 2 Seconds”

A Rare Repeating Fast Radio Burst Gives Astronomers a Chance to Study These Mysterious Objects

Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) are among the most mysterious astronomical phenomena facing astronomers today. While hundreds of bursts have been detected since the first-ever recorded detection of an FRB in 2007 – the Lorimer Burst – astronomers are still unsure what causes them. Even more mysterious, some have occasionally been found to be repeating in nature, which has fueled speculation that they may not be natural in origin (i.e., possible alien transmissions?). Astronomers are naturally very excited whenever a repeating FRB is found, as it gives them the chance to examine them closer.

In a recent survey, an international team of scientists used three major telescopes worldwide to study a repeating FRB (known as FRB 190520) that was first observed in 2019. According to their observations, this particular FRB is not just a repeating source from a compact object but a persistent one that emits low-level bursts of radio waves between larger ones. These findings raise new questions about the nature of these mysterious objects and how they can be used as tools to probe the space between stars and galaxies.

Continue reading “A Rare Repeating Fast Radio Burst Gives Astronomers a Chance to Study These Mysterious Objects”

A Pulsar has Been Found Turning so Slowly Astronomers Didn't Even Think it was Possible: Once Every 76 Seconds

Astronomy is progressing rapidly these days, thanks in part to how advances in one area can contribute to progress in another. For instance, improved optics, instruments, and data processing methods have allowed astronomers to push the boundaries of optical and infrared to gravitational wave (GW) astronomy. Radio astronomy is also advancing considerably thanks to arrays like the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa, which will join with observatories in Australia in the near future to create the Square Kilometer Array (SKA).

In particular, radio astronomers are using next-generation instruments to study phenomena like Fast Radio Bursts (FRBs) and neutron stars. Recently, an international team of scientists led by the University of Manchester discovered a strange radio-emitting neutron star with a powerful magnetic field (a “magnetar”) and an extremely slow rotational period of 76 seconds. This discovery could have significant implications for radio astronomy and hints at a possible connection between different types of neutron stars and FRBs.

Continue reading “A Pulsar has Been Found Turning so Slowly Astronomers Didn't Even Think it was Possible: Once Every 76 Seconds”

Neutron Stars Could be the Best way to Measure Dark Energy

An artistic rendering of two neutron stars merging. Credit: NSF/LIGO/Sonoma State/A. Simonnet

Dark energy is central to our modern theory of cosmology. We know the universe is expanding at an ever-increasing rate, and the clearest explanation is that some kind of energy is driving it. Since this energy doesn’t emit light, we call it dark energy. But simply giving dark energy a name doesn’t mean we fully understand it. We can see what dark energy does, but its fundamental nature is perhaps the biggest scientific mystery we have.

Continue reading “Neutron Stars Could be the Best way to Measure Dark Energy”

Twin Stars Prove Einstein at Least 99.99% Right

Artistic impression of the Double Pulsar system, where two active pulsars orbit each other in just 147 min. The orbital motion of these extremely dense neutrons star causes a number of relativistic effects, including the creation of ripples in spacetime known as gravitational waves. The gravitational waves carry away energy from the systems which shrinks by about 7mm per days as a result. The corresponding measurement agrees with the prediction of general relativity within 0.013%. The picture at high resolution and two alternative versions (1b, 1c) are accessible in the left column. [less] © Michael Kramer/MPIfR

More than a hundred years have passed since Einstein formalized his theory of General Relativity (GR), the geometric theory of gravitation that revolutionized our understanding of the Universe. And yet, astronomers are still subjecting it to rigorous tests, hoping to find deviations from this established theory. The reason is simple: any indication of physics beyond GR would open new windows onto the Universe and help resolve some of the deepest mysteries about the cosmos.

One of the most rigorous tests ever was recently conducted by an international team of astronomers led by Michael Kramer of the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy (MPIfR) in Bonn, Germany. Using seven radio telescopes from across the world, Kramer and his colleagues observed a unique pair of pulsars for 16 years. In the process, they observed effects predicted by GR for the first time, and with an accuracy of at least 99.99%!

Continue reading “Twin Stars Prove Einstein at Least 99.99% Right”