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Afterglow of Colliding Neutron Stars Would Outshine Our Sun -

Date published: 2019-09-12
Originally published: Here. Excerpt below.

Back in March, astronomers pointed the Hubble Space Telescope at a distant point in space where two neutron stars had collided. Using Hubble's giant eye, they stared at that distant spot for 7 hours, 28 minutes and 32 seconds over the course of six of the telescope's orbits around Earth. It was the longest exposure ever made of the collision site, what astronomers call the "deepest" image. But their shot, made more than 19 months after the light from the collision reached Earth, didn't pick up any remnants of the neutron-star merger. And that's great news.
This story began with a wobble on Aug. 17, 2017.  A gravitational wave, having traveled 130 million light-years across space, jostled the lasers in the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), the gravitational-wave detector that spans the globe. That signal followed a pattern, one that told researchers it was the result of the merger of two neutron stars — the first neutron-star merger ever detected. Gravitational-wave detectors can't tell what direction a wave comes from, but as soon as the signal arrived, astronomers worldwide swung into action, hunting the night sky for the source of the blast. They soon found it: a point on the outskirts of a galaxy known as NGC4993 had lit up with the "kilonova" of the collision — a massive explosion that flings rapidly decaying radioactive material into space in a brilliant display of light.
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A few weeks later, NGC4993 passed behind the sun, and didn't emerge again until about 100 days after the first sign of the collision. At that point, the kilonova had faded, revealing the "afterglow" of the neutron-star merger — a fainter but longer-lasting phenomenon. Between December 2017 and December 2018, astronomers used the Hubble to observe the afterglow 10 times as it slowly faded. This latest image, though, showing no visible afterglow or other signs of the collision, could be the most ...

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