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GW170817 Animations

A Tour of GW170817
(Credit: NASA/CXC/A. Jubett)
[Runtime: 02:52]

With closed-captions (at YouTube)

The spectacular merger of two neutron stars that generated gravitational waves announced last fall likely did something else: birthed a black hole. This newly spawned black hole would be the lowest mass black hole ever found.

A new study analyzed data from NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory taken in the days, weeks, and months after the detection of gravitational waves by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, and gamma rays by NASA's Fermi mission on August 17, 2017.

While nearly every telescope at professional astronomers' disposal observed this source, known officially as GW170817, X-rays from Chandra are critical for understanding what happened after the two neutron stars collided.

From the LIGO data astronomers have a good estimate that the mass of the object resulting from the neutron star merger is about 2.7 times the mass of the Sun. This puts it on a tightrope of identity, implying it is either the most massive neutron star ever found or the lowest mass black hole ever found. The previous record holders for the latter are no less than about four or five times the Sun's mass.

The Chandra observations are telling, not only for what they revealed, but also for what they did not. If the neutron stars merged and formed a heavier neutron star, then astronomers would expect it to spin rapidly and generate a very strong magnetic field. This, in turn, would have created an expanding bubble of high-energy particles that would result in bright X-ray emission. Instead, the Chandra data show levels of X-rays that are a factor of a few to several hundred times lower than expected for a rapidly spinning, merged neutron star and the associated bubble of high-energy particles, implying a black hole likely formed instead.


A Quick Look at GW170817
(Credit: NASA/CXC/A. Jubett)
[Runtime: 01:08]

Last fall, astronomers announced the discovery of a pair of merging neutron stars that generated gravitational waves.

This first-of-its-kind result likely did something else spectacular: created a black hole.

Scientists observed the source with NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory in the days, weeks, and months after the gravitational waves were detected.

These X-ray data help rule out a new, heavier neutron star formed as a result of the merger.

Instead, their research implies that a new black hole with the lowest known mass was formed.

Astronomers will continue to use Chandra and other telescopes to see what happens next with this important cosmic object.

 





Return to GW170817 (May 31, 2018)