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Recent Podcast
A Quick Look at Abell 1033
A Quick Look at Abell 1033
Hidden in a distant galaxy cluster collision are wisps of gas resembling the starship Enterprise, an iconic spaceship from the "Star Trek" franchise. (2018-11-15)


A Tour of GW170817

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Narrator (April Jubett, CXC): The spectacular merger of two neutron stars that generated gravitational waves announced last fall likely did something else: birthed a black hole. This newly spawned black hole would be the lowest mass black hole ever found.

A new study analyzed data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory taken in the days, weeks, and months after the detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, and gamma rays by NASA's Fermi mission on August 17, 2017.

While nearly every telescope at professional astronomers' disposal observed this source, known officially as GW170817, X-rays from Chandra are critical for understanding what happened after the two neutron stars collided.

From the LIGO data astronomers have a good estimate that the mass of the object resulting from the neutron star merger is about 2.7 times the mass of the Sun. This puts it on a tightrope of identity, implying it is either the most massive neutron star ever found or the lowest mass black hole ever found. The previous record holders for the latter are no less than about four or five times the Sun's mass.

The Chandra observations are telling, not only for what they revealed, but also for what they did not. If the neutron stars merged and formed a heavier neutron star, then astronomers would expect it to spin rapidly and generate a very strong magnetic field. This, in turn, would have created an expanding bubble of high-energy particles that would result in bright X-ray emission. Instead, the Chandra data show levels of X-rays that are a factor of a few to several hundred times lower than expected for a rapidly spinning, merged neutron star and the associated bubble of high-energy particles, implying a black hole likely formed instead.

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