Black hole swallows neutron star

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An artist’s depiction of a black hole about to swallow a neutron star… Image: Carl Knox, OzGrav ARC Centre of Excellence

SCIENTISTS have detected a black hole swallowing a neutron star (super-dense remains of dead stars) for the first time, according to ANU who had scientists involved in the findings. 

“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,” says Prof Susan Scott, from the ANU Research School of Physics.

On Wednesday, August 14, gravitational-wave discovery machines in the US and Italy detected ripples in space and time from the cataclysmic event that happened about 8550 million trillion kilometres away from Earth.

Prof Scott, the leader of the General Relativity Theory and Data Analysis Group at ANU and a chief investigator with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Gravitational Wave Discovery (OzGrav), says the achievement completed the team’s trifecta of observations on their original wish list, which included the merger of two black holes and the collision of two neutron stars.

“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,” she says.

Scientists are still analysing the data to confirm the exact size of the two objects, but initial findings indicate the very strong likelihood of a black hole enveloping a neutron star, according to Prof Scoot, who says the final results are expected to be published in scientific journals.

“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,” she says.

“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.”

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