For the first time ever, astronomers say they have detected ripples in space coming from a black hole eating a neutron star.
On Wednesday 14 August 2019, radio telescopes in the United States and Italy detected ripples in space-time. They were coming from a cataclysmic event that happened about 900 million light-years away from Earth.
Both the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO) in the US and the Virgo detector in Italy have detected the signal.
“It was a very clear and loud signal,” said astrophysicist Susan Scott of the Australian National University and OzGrav’s chief investigator.
“We have to do some more checking of the data and signal to be absolutely certain but it is looking quite probable.”
“The lighter one should be a neutron star. They are less than three solar masses in general.”
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If they are right, the latest detection would complete a trifecta for the scientists.
“About 900 million years ago, this black hole ate a very dense star, known as a neutron star, like Pac-man—possibly snuffing out the star instantly,” said Professor Scott.
“The ANU SkyMapper Telescope responded to the detection alert and scanned the entire likely region of space where the event occurred, but we’ve not found any visual confirmation.”
Gravitational waves are created right before two massive objects collide.
Astronomers analyze the gravitational wave data to estimate the exact size of the two objects. Thus, figuring out what each one was.
If both objects are between one and three solar masses, they’re most likely neutron stars. If both are more than five solar masses, the event probably involved two black holes.
But on Wednesday’s detection, astronomers found, one object was over five solar masses, while the other came in under three. That strongly suggests this is a collision between a black hole and a neutron star. Black holes and neutron stars are the super-dense remains of dead stars.
“Scientists have never detected a black hole smaller than five solar masses or a neutron star larger than about 2.5 times the mass of our Sun,” Professor Scott said.
“Based on this experience, we’re very confident that we’ve just detected a black hole gobbling up a neutron star.
“However, there is the slight but intriguing possibility that the swallowed object was a very light black hole—much lighter than any other black hole we know about in the Universe. That would be a truly awesome consolation prize.”
However, scientists need some time before they publish the final results which will definitely clear our doubts.