Skip to main content

LIGO observatory sees its 2nd-ever neutron star collision — and it was massive

Artist's rendition of a binary neutron star merger.
Artist’s rendition of a binary neutron star merger. National Science Foundation/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet

The Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory (LIGO), famous for the first detection of gravitational waves, has made another exciting observation. It has observed a pair of neutron stars smashing into each other, for only the second time in its history.

The first observation of neutron stars colliding happened in August 2017 and was notable for showing that both gravitational waves and light were generated by the event. The more recent observation of a neutron star collision didn’t include any light, though it did result in the detection of gravitational waves caused by the collision of two massive bodies.

Even by the standards of neutron stars, the two bodies which collided were heavy. “From conventional observations with light, we already knew of 17 binary neutron star systems in our own galaxy and we have estimated the masses of these stars,” Ben Farr, a LIGO team member based at the University of Oregon, said in a statement. “What’s surprising is that the combined mass of this binary is much higher than what was expected.”

Simulation of the neutron star coalescence GW190425

The combined mass of the two bodies is 3.4 times the mass of our sun, which was surprising as the other binary neutron star systems we have observed previously had only been up to 2.9 times the mass of the sun. This extra mass could be explained if one of the pair of bodies was actually a black hole rather than a neutron star, but it would have to be an exceedingly small black hole for the math to work out. The LIGO scientists think it’s much more likely that they observed two neutron stars colliding.

The scientists are interested in how the two heavy neutron stars formed a binary pair. “What we know from the data are the masses, and the individual masses most likely correspond to neutron stars,” Surabhi Sachdev, a LIGO team member based at Penn State, said in the statement. “However, as a binary neutron star system, the total mass is much higher than any of the other known galactic neutron star binaries. And this could have interesting implications for how the pair originally formed.”

Currently, there are two main theories for how neutron stars form into pairs. The first theory is that star systems develop with two stars at their center, then both stars die and become neutron stars. The second theory is that the two neutron stars develop separately and then come together in densely packed regions of space to form a pair. Scientists still aren’t sure which scenario is more likely or which one led to the neutron binary they observed colliding, so they are hoping to collect more data to investigate this question.

Editors' Recommendations

Georgina Torbet
Georgina is the Digital Trends space writer, covering human space exploration, planetary science, and cosmology. She…
Why AI will never rule the world
image depicting AI, with neurons branching out from humanoid head

Call it the Skynet hypothesis, Artificial General Intelligence, or the advent of the Singularity -- for years, AI experts and non-experts alike have fretted (and, for a small group, celebrated) the idea that artificial intelligence may one day become smarter than humans.

According to the theory, advances in AI -- specifically of the machine learning type that's able to take on new information and rewrite its code accordingly -- will eventually catch up with the wetware of the biological brain. In this interpretation of events, every AI advance from Jeopardy-winning IBM machines to the massive AI language model GPT-3 is taking humanity one step closer to an existential threat. We're literally building our soon-to-be-sentient successors.

Read more
The best hurricane trackers for Android and iOS in 2022
Truck caught in gale force winds.

Hurricane season strikes fear into the hearts of those who live in its direct path, as well as distanced loved ones who worry for their safety. If you've ever sat up all night in a state of panic for a family member caught home alone in the middle of a destructive storm, dependent only on intermittent live TV reports for updates, a hurricane tracker app is a must-have tool. There are plenty of hurricane trackers that can help you prepare for these perilous events, monitor their progress while underway, and assist in recovery. We've gathered the best apps for following storms, predicting storm paths, and delivering on-the-ground advice for shelter and emergency services. Most are free to download and are ad-supported. Premium versions remove ads and add additional features.

You may lose power during a storm, so consider purchasing a portable power source,  just in case. We have a few handy suggestions for some of the best portable generators and power stations available. 

Read more
Don’t buy the Meta Quest Pro for gaming. It’s a metaverse headset first
Meta Quest Pro enables 3D modeling in mixed reality.

Last week’s Meta Connect started off promising on the gaming front. Viewers got release dates for Iron Man VR, an upcoming Quest game that was previously a PS VR exclusive, as well as Among Us VR. Meta, which owns Facebook, also announced that it was acquiring three major VR game studios -- Armature Studio, Camouflaj Team, and Twisted Pixel -- although we don’t know what they’re working on just yet.

Unfortunately, that’s where the Meta Connect's gaming section mostly ended. Besides tiny glimpses and a look into fitness, video games were not the show's focus. Instead, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wanted to focus on what seemed to be his company’s real vision of VR's future, which involves a lot of legs and a lot of work with the Quest Pro, a mixed reality headset that'll cost a whopping $1,500.

Read more