Nav: Home

When will a neutron star collapse to a black hole?

April 07, 2016

Neutron stars are the most extreme and fascinating objects known to exist in our universe: Such a star has a mass that is up to twice that of the sun but a radius of only a dozen kilometres: hence it has an enormous density, thousands of billions of times that of the densest element on Earth. An important property of neutron stars, distinguishing them from normal stars, is that their mass cannot grow without bound. Indeed, if a nonrotating star increases its mass, also its density will increase. Normally this will lead to a new equilibrium and the star can live stably in this state for thousands of years. This process, however, cannot repeat indefinitely and the accreting star will reach a mass above which no physical pressure will prevent it from collapsing to a black hole. The critical mass when this happens is called the "maximum mass" and represents an upper limit to the mass that a nonrotating neutron star can be.

However, once the maximum mass is reached, the star also has an alternative to the collapse: it can rotate. A rotating star, in fact, can support a mass larger than if it was nonrotating, simply because the additional centrifugal force can help balance the gravitational force. Also in this case, however, the star cannot be arbitrarily massive because an increase in mass must be accompanied by an increase in rotation and there is a limit to how fast a star can rotate before breaking apart. Hence, for any neutron star there is an absolute maximum mass and is given by the largest mass of the fastest-spinning model.

Determining this value from first principles is difficult because it depends on the equation of state of the matter composing the star and this is still essentially unknown. Because of this, the determination of the maximum rotating mass of a neutron star has been an unsolved problem for decades. This has changed with a recent work published on Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, where it has been found that it is indeed possible to predict the maximum mass a rapidly rotating neutron star can attain by simply considering what is maximum mass of corresponding the nonrotating configuration.

"It is quite remarkable that a system as complex as a rotating neutron star can be described by such a simple relation", declares Prof. Luciano Rezzolla, one of the authors of the publication and Chair of Theoretical Astrophysics at the Goethe University in Frankfurt. "Surprisingly, we now know that even the fastest rotation can at most increase the maximum mass of 20% at most", remarks Rezzolla.

Although a very large number of stellar models have been computed to obtain this result, what was essential in this discovery was to look at this data in proper way. More specifically, it was necessary to realise that if represented with a proper normalisation, the data behaves in a universal manner, that is, in a way that is essentially independent of the equation of state.

"This result has always been in front of our eyes, but we needed to look at it from the right perspective to actually see it", says Cosima Breu, a Master student at the University of Frankfurt, who has performed the analysis of the data during her Bachelor thesis.

The universal behaviour found for the maximum mass is part of a larger class of universal relations found recently for neutron stars. Within this context, Breu and Rezzolla have also proposed an improved way to express the moment of inertia of these rotating stars in terms of their compactness. Once observations of the moment of inertia will be possible through the measurement of binary pulsars, the new method will allow us to measure the stellar radius with a precision of 10% or less.

This simple but powerful result opens the prospects for more universal relations to be found in rotating stars. "We hope to find more equally exciting results when studying the largely unexplored grounds of differentially rotating neutron stars", concludes Rezzolla.
Publication: Cosima Breu, Luciano Rezzolla: Maximum mass, moment of inertia and compactness of relativistic, in: Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society

Goethe University Frankfurt

Related Black Hole Articles:

Scientists make waves with black hole research
Scientists at the University of Nottingham have made a significant leap forward in understanding the workings of one of the mysteries of the universe.
Collapsing star gives birth to a black hole
Astronomers have watched as a massive, dying star was likely reborn as a black hole.
When helium behaves like a black hole
A team of scientists has discovered that a law controlling the bizarre behavior of black holes out in space -- is also true for cold helium atoms that can be studied in laboratories.
Star in closest orbit ever seen around black hole
Astronomers have found evidence of a star that whips around a likely black hole twice an hour.
Tail of stray black hole hiding in the Milky Way
By analyzing the gas motion of an extraordinarily fast-moving cosmic cloud in a corner of the Milky Way, Astronomers found hints of a wandering black hole hidden in the cloud.
Hubble gazes into a black hole of puzzling lightness
The beautiful spiral galaxy visible in the center of the image is known as RX J1140.1+0307, a galaxy in the Virgo constellation imaged by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope, and it presents an interesting puzzle.
Clandestine black hole may represent new population
Astronomers have combined data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory, the Hubble Space Telescope and the National Science Foundation's Karl G.
When will a neutron star collapse to a black hole?
Astrophysicists from Goethe-University Frankfurt have found a simple formula for the maximum mass of a rotating neutron star and hence answered a question that had been open for decades.
Behemoth black hole found in an unlikely place
Astronomers have uncovered a near-record breaking supermassive black hole, weighing 17 billion suns, in an unlikely place: in the center of a galaxy in a sparsely populated area of the universe.
Behemoth black hole found in an unlikely place
Astronomers have uncovered one of the biggest supermassive black holes, with the mass of 17 billion Suns, in an unlikely place: the centre of a galaxy that lies in a quiet backwater of the Universe.

Related Black Hole Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Changing The World
What does it take to change the world for the better? This hour, TED speakers explore ideas on activism—what motivates it, why it matters, and how each of us can make a difference. Guests include civil rights activist Ruby Sales, labor leader and civil rights activist Dolores Huerta, author Jeremy Heimans, "craftivist" Sarah Corbett, and designer and futurist Angela Oguntala.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#520 A Closer Look at Objectivism
This week we broach the topic of Objectivism. We'll be speaking with Keith Lockitch, senior fellow at the Ayn Rand Institute, about the philosophy of Objectivism as it's taught through Ayn Rand's writings. Then we'll speak with Denise Cummins, cognitive scientist, author and fellow at the Association for Psychological Science, about the impact of Objectivist ideology on society. Related links: This is what happens when you take Ayn Rand seriously Another Critic Who Doesn’t Care What Rand Thought or Why She Thought It, Only That She’s Wrong Quote is from "A Companion to Ayn Rand"