The extraordinary collision of a neutron star and a black hole captured for the first time

estrella de neutrones

Black holes are astronomical objects with such a strong force of gravity that not even light can escape from them.

Over the course of 10 days, scientists have detected two collisions between a neutron star and a black hole.

It was something that investigators had already predicted could happen, although they didn't know how often.

And now, once observed, some ideas about how stars and galaxies form will have to be revised.

"We're going to have to rewrite our theories," Vivien Raymond, a professor at Cardiff University in the UK, said effusively.

The academic, who specializes in astrophysics, told the BBC that these results, which most scientists find surprising, are certainly "fantastic".

"We have learned a new lesson. When we assume something, after a while we are usually proven wrong. So we have to keep our minds open and see what the Universe is telling us," Raymond added.

Black holes are astronomical objects with such a strong force of gravity that not even light can escape from them.

Neutron stars are dead stars that have a high density. Just to get an idea of how dense they are, suffice it to say that a teaspoon of the material that makes up a neutron star could weigh about 4,000 million tons.

Both objects are cosmological "monsters," but black holes are considerably larger than neutron stars.

In the first collision, detected on January 5, 2020, a black hole six times the size of our Sun crashed into a neutron star 1.5 larger than our solar star.

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In the second collision, which occurred 10 days later, a black hole with a mass 10 times the Sun in our system joined with a neutron star twice the size of the Sun.

When objects of this size collide, loops are created in the fabric of time known as gravitational waves. And those loops or ripples are what scientists have detected.

The researchers thus looked at the previous records with new eyes and many of them were likely similar collisions.

Although the researchers had already detected the collision of two black holes and also that of two neutron stars, this is the first time they have seen a star collide with a black hole.

But why does it matter?

For several reasons, but mainly for one, according to theories created based on other observations, neutron stars were considered to collide with other neutron stars. The same applied to black holes.

In fact, some factors reduce the chances of two different objects coming together in space.

But the detection of these two collisions, reported on in The Astrophysical Journal Letters, could challenge this principle.

For example, it could lead to another set of theories, such as the one that assumes that black holes and neutron stars are, in fact, together in space.

This alternative theory would imply that stars and galaxies are formed in a different way than that established by the theoretical framework on the formation of the cosmos.

For example, over billions of years, stars have produced many of the building blocks on which larger cosmic structures, such as planets and galaxies, have been built.

Furthermore, what is produced between stars, which we call heavy elements - such as iron, carbon, and oxygen - is directly related to the proportion of pairs of neutron stars and black holes in the Universe.

The force with which stars expel their inner material once they explode is also related to this balance between holes and neutron stars.

In conclusion, these new findings suggest that stars produce fewer heavy elements and expel them with less force than previously thought, which has various implications for observing the Universe.

No theory can perfectly explain what astronomers see in the sky.

But according to Professor Vivien Raymond, many of the ideas can be "adapted" to better fit what we already know.

For Sheila Rowan, an academic at the University of Glasgow in Scotland, observations on the type and frequency of collisions between black holes and neutron stars in the last six years have created a more detailed picture of the dynamics that occur in the interior of galaxies.

“What all this is giving us is a richer picture of the evolution of the stars. This last observation is another principle of our understanding of what happens out there in the Universe and how it became what we see today, "Rowan told the BBC.

The collisions were detected by measuring waves caused by sudden changes in gravitational forces that occur when two bodies collide.

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