Astronomers Witness Birth Of A Neutron Star For The First Time

For the first time ever, humans have witnessed the formation of something known as a neutron star binary. The team of astronomers from the California Institute of Technology have just released their findings in Science Journal. It has been named Supernova iPTF 14gqr.

What happened?

It’s a very complicated process. To try to explain it all here would be as painful for me as it would be for you. I’ll try to keep it simple. Basically, neutron stars are one of a few possible outcomes from a supernova. A supernova is a kind of massive explosion that takes place when a star dies. When a star has burned through most of its fuel and can no longer hold itself together against gravity, the core of the star collapses and then erupts in a massive explosion which blasts away it’s outer-layers, leaving an incredibly dense object known as a neutron star. A neutron star is so dense, that one teaspoon would weigh as much as a mountain.

The supernova before, during, and after the explosion. NASA/JPL-Caltech/R. Hurt


What makes this special?

During a supernova, the star blasts away all of its outer-layers which is usually several times the mass of the sun. However, the event witnessed by the Caltech team saw material only about one-fifth of the mass of the sun blasted off. This means that the neutron star produced must have a companion (either a black hole, white dwarf, or another neutron star), that siphoned off some of the mass before the explosion. Because the neutron and its companion are born so close, they will eventually collide. A similar thing was seen in 2017 and it produced gravitational and electromagnetic waves.


The event was first seen at the Palomar Observatory, in a nightly survey designed to pick up short-lived rare occurrences such as this one. Before it was observed, the idea of a neutron star binary was only theoretic. Mansi Kasliwa, who’s laboratory the research took place in, said, “This is the first time we have convincingly seen core collapse of a massive star that is so devoid of matter.”

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