Astronomers find a rare star system that triggers a gold explosion
Astronomers at the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab have made the first confirmed detection of a star system that will one day form a kilonova, an extremely powerful, gold-producing explosion caused by the merger of neutron stars.
Researchers said Tuesday that they used data from the 1.5-meter SMARTS telescope at the Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile to uncover the first example of this extremely rare type of binary star system. The results have been published in the journal Nature.
The arrangement, known as CPD-29 2176, is so rare that only about 10 such systems are thought to exist in the Milky Way.
CPD-29 2176 is located about 11,400 light-years from Earth and was first identified by NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory.
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After further observation with the telescope, the scientists were able to deduce the orbital characteristics and types of stars that make up this system: a neutron star created by a super-abstract supernova and a nearby massive star that is in the process of a super-abstract supernova itself.
A hyper-stripping supernova is the end-of-life explosion of a massive star that has stripped its companion star of much of its outer atmosphere.
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“The current neutron star must have formed without ejecting its companion from the system. An ultra-abstract supernova is the best explanation for why these companion stars are in such a tight orbit,” said the paper’s lead author, Noel Richardson of Embry-Riddle. Aviation University said in a statement. “For one star to make a kilonova one day, the other star would also need to explode as a very abstract supernova so that the two neutron stars can eventually collide and merge.”
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It would take at least a million years for the massive star to end its life in a gigantic supernova explosion and leave behind a second neutron star. The authors said that the stellar remnants and a pre-existing neutron star would need to come together before the merger, and noted that the resulting kilonova explosion would produce much stronger gravitational waves and leave behind a large amount of heavy elements, including silver and gold.
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