Nav: Home

Researchers see beam of light from first confirmed neutron star merger emerge from behind sun

July 02, 2018

A research team led by astronomers at the University of Warwick had to wait over 100 days for the sight of the first of confirmed neutron star merger to remerge from behind the glare of the sun.

They were rewarded with the first confirmed visual sighting of a jet of material that was still streaming out from merged star exactly 110 days after that initial cataclysmic merger event was first observed. Their observations confirm a key prediction about the aftermath of neutron star mergers.

The binary neutron star merger GW170817 occurred 130 million light years away in a galaxy named NGC 4993. It was detected in August 2017 by the Advanced Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (Adv-LIGO), and by Gamma Ray Burst (GRB) observations, and then became the first ever neutron star merger to be observed and confirmed by visual astronomy.

After a few weeks the merged star then passed behind the glare of our sun leaving it effectively hidden from astronomers until it remerged from that glare 100 days after the merger event. It was at that point that the University of Warwick research team were able to use the Hubble Space Telescope to see the star was still generating a powerful beam of light in a direction that, while off centre to the Earth, was starting to spread out in our direction.

Their research has just been published in a paper entitled: "The optical afterglow of the short gamma-ray burst associated with GW170817" in Nature Astronomy's website at 4pm UK time on Monday 02 July 2018.

The lead author of the paper, Dr Joe Lyman from the University of Warwick's Department of Physics, said:

"Early on, we saw visible light powered by radioactive decay of heavy elements, over a hundred days later and this has gone, but now we see a jet of material, ejected at an angle to us, but at almost of the speed of light. This is quite different than some people have suggested, that the material wouldn't come out in a jet, but in all directions."

Professor Andrew Levan from the University of Warwick's Department of Physics, another of the papers leading authors added:

"If we'd looked straight down this beam we'd have seen a really powerful burst of gamma-ray. This means that it is quite likely that every neutron star that mergers actually creates a gamma-ray burst, but we only see a small fraction of them because the jet doesn't line up all that often. Gravitational waves are a whole new way to find this kind of event, and they might be more common than we think."

These observations confirm the prediction made by the second author of the paper, Dr Gavin Lamb from the University of Leicester's Department of Physics and Astronomy, said that these types of events will reveal the structure of these jets of material travelling close to the speed of light:

"The behaviour of the light from these jets, how it brightens and fades, can be used to determine the velocity of the material throughout the jet. As the afterglow brightens we are seeing deeper into the jet structure and probing the fastest components. This will help us understand how these jets of material, travelling close to the speed of light, are formed and how they are accelerated to these phenomenal velocities."
Notes for Editors

Support for the research: The research was based on observations made with the NASA/European Space Agency Hubble Space Telescope, obtained from the data archive at the Space Telescope Science Institute (STScI). STScI is operated by the Association of Universities for Research in Astronomy, Inc. under NASA contract NAS 5-26555. This project has received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no 725246). The research are also grateful for support from the Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) via grant ST/P000495/1. The work was also supported by the Royal Astronomical Society, United Kingdom Space Agency and the International Astronomical Union Other researchers in the team were individually supported by a number of other organisations.

The full list of research organisations contributing to this research is: The Department of Physics, University of Warwick; the Astrophysics Research Institute, LJMU; the Birmingham Institute for Gravitational Wave Astronomy and School of Physics and Astronomy, University of Birmingham; the Monash Centre for Astrophysics, School of Physics and Astronomy, Monash University; the Department of Physics and Astronomy, University of Leicester; the Dark Cosmology Centre, Niels Bohr Institute, University of Copenhagen; the Space Telescope Science Institute, Baltimore; the Instituto de Astrof´?sica de Andaluc´?a (IAA-CSIC), Glorieta de la Astronom´?a; The Cosmic Dawn Center, Copenhagen; the Center for the Exploration of the Origin of the universe (CEOU), Seoul National University; the Astronomy Program, Department of Physics & Astronomy, Seoul National University; the Centre for Astrophysics and Cosmology, Science Institute, University of Iceland; INAF the Institute of Space Astrophysics and Cosmic Physics; The Oskar Klein Centre, Department of Astronomy, Stockholm University; and the Anton Pannekoek Institute, University of Amsterdam.

For further information please contact:

Professor Andrew J. Levan,
Department of Physics,
University of Warwick
Tel: 0247 657 4740 (mobile available from Luke Walton below)

Dr Joseph Lyman
Department of Physics,
University of Warwick
Tel: 024 765 23383 (mobile available from Luke Walton below)

Luke Walton, International Press Manager
University of Warwick
+44 (0) 7824 540 863
+44 (0) 2476 150 868

University of Warwick

Related Neutron Star Articles:

Neutron-rich nucleus shapeshifts between a rugby ball and a discus
Researchers have shown that there are two coexisting, competing quantum shapes at low energy in 98Kr, never before seen for neutron-rich Kr isotopes.
Neutron lifetime measurements take new shape for in situ detection
Neutrons are inherently unstable and don't last long outside an atomic nucleus, and because they decay on a time scale similar to the period for Big Bang Nucleosynthesis, accurate simulations of the BBN era require thorough knowledge of the neutron lifetime, but this value is still not precisely known.
Speeding star gives new clues to breakup of multi-star system
Three stars have been discovered that now hold the record as the youngest-known examples of a super-fast star category.
Hubble discovery of runaway star yields clues to breakup of multiple-star system
A gravitational tussle, ended with a multi-star system breaking apart and at least three stars being ejected in different directions.
Brightest neutron star yet has a multipolar magnetic field
Scientists have identified a neutron star that is consuming material so fast it emits more x-rays than any other.
A population of neutron stars can generate gravitational waves continuously
Scientists at TIFR show that a population of neutron stars have a spin rate that is much higher than that calculated by the conventional method.
Neutron crystallography aids in drug design
Knowledge of H-bonding networks, water molecule orientations and protonation states, along with details of hydrophobic and electrostatic interactions, can prove vital towards a better understanding of many biological processes, such as enzyme mechanisms and can help guide structure-based drug design.
Mapping the exotic matter inside neutron stars
Scientists performed the first accurate determination of the thermodynamic properties of dense quark matter under violent conditions that occur during neutron star mergers, and suggest a step towards distinguishing between neutron and quark matter cores in neutron stars.
Improving safety of neutron sources
There is a growing interest in the scientific community in a type of high-power neutron source that is created via a process referred to as spallation.
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.

Related Neutron Star Reading:

Neutron Star
by Larry Niven (Author)

Black Holes, White Dwarfs and Neutron Stars: The Physics of Compact Objects
by Stuart L. Shapiro (Author), Saul A. Teukolsky (Author)

Neutron Star : Including the Winning Best Short Story
by Larry Niven (Author)

The Black Hole-Neutron Star Binary Merger in Full General Relativity: Dependence on Neutron Star Equations of State (Springer Theses)
by Koutarou Kyutoku (Author)

Neutron Stars 1: Equation of State and Structure (Astrophysics and Space Science Library) (v. 1)
by P. Haensel (Author), A.Y. Potekhin (Author), D.G. Yakovlev (Author)

neutron Star
by Niven Larry (Author)

Neutron star tea party (Beyond The Impossible) (Volume 2)
by Fabio Furlanetto (Author)

Star One: Neutron Star
by Raymond L. Weil

Neutron Star: The World After

Death of a Neutron Star (Star Trek Voyager, No 17)
by Eric Kotani (Author)

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Why We Hate
From bullying to hate crimes, cruelty is all around us. So what makes us hate? And is it learned or innate? This hour, TED speakers explore the causes and consequences of hate — and how we can fight it. Guests include reformed white nationalist Christian Picciolini, CNN commentator Sally Kohn, podcast host Dylan Marron, and writer Anand Giridharadas.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#482 Body Builders
This week we explore how science and technology can help us walk when we've lost our legs, see when we've gone blind, explore unfriendly environments, and maybe even make our bodies better, stronger, and faster than ever before. We speak to Adam Piore, author of the book "The Body Builders: Inside the Science of the Engineered Human", about the increasingly amazing ways bioengineering is being used to reverse engineer, rebuild, and augment human beings. And we speak with Ken Thomas, spacesuit engineer and author of the book "The Journey to Moonwalking: The People That Enabled Footprints on the Moon" about...