Mysterious Neutron Star Merger Explosion Just Keeps Getting Brighter, Baffling Scientists

Friday, 19 January 2018 - 10:34AM
Science News
Friday, 19 January 2018 - 10:34AM
Mysterious Neutron Star Merger Explosion Just Keeps Getting Brighter, Baffling Scientists
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Image credit: NASA
Last year, scientists used gravitational waves to detect the merger of two enormous neutron stars, far away in the NGC 4993 galaxy.

The event was spectacular, as these two huge celestial bodies collided, exploding in a shower of gold so big it'd make King Midas himself drool with envy.

Following the merger, scientists detected an enormous burst of gamma radiation, producing a huge beam of beautiful light. When a gamma burst was simulated in a lab here on Earth, it was described by the scientists involves as the "world's most powerful laser," but the neutron star explosion is, naturally, on a whole different scale when it comes to power output and destructive beauty. Essentially, think of the Death Star from Star Wars, but even cooler.

Scientists observed the NGC 4993, and expected the giant gamma burst to dissipate fairly quickly as the energy released by the two neutron stars was used up.

To their surprise, rather than reducing over time, the light coming from this explosion has been getting brighter and brighter. What was once a Death Star, has evolved into a full-blown Starkiller Base.

According to McGill University astrophysicist Daryl Haggard:

Opening quote
"Usually when we see a short gamma-ray burst, the jet emission generated gets bright for a short time as it smashes into the surrounding medium—then fades as the system stops injecting energy into the outflow. This one is different; it's definitely not a simple, plain-Jane narrow jet."
Closing quote

Few people could possibly feel justified in calling any neutron star explosion a "plain-Jane" event, which just goes to show how powerful and impressive this particular merger must be. For this much light and energy to be given off over an extended period of time, something has to be going on that scientists are unable to explain using current models.

According to the scientists who've been studying this merger and the resulting explosion, we may be seeing the effects of a "cocoon" of energy, as the explosion from the two neutron stars is temporarily shielded by an initial jet of gamma radiation that traps further fiery energy in a kind of force-field or cocoon until the first burst of radiation dissipates, after which, the rest of the energy can burst through and flood outwards into the stars.

This would certainly go some way to explaining why the neutron merger's effects have lasted this long, and why the explosion seems to get brighter, rather than dimmer, over time.

Of course, there is one other possible theory that bears mention.

Some scientists have begun suggesting that gamma bursts might actually be a form of communication from advanced alien races, who are able to manipulate these gigantic explosions in order to send out coded messages.

While there's very little evidence to suggest that this might be the case, it would solve the Fermi paradox (which states that by now, we really should have spotted aliens somewhere in the cosmos). It also conveniently helps to explain why this neutron star merger is acting so strangely—if aliens have tweaked the event in order to try and draw our attention, then their plan has certainly worked.

For now, scientists will need to continue monitoring the explosion within NGC 4993 to see what happens next—as we continue to observe this impressive laser show, we might manage to learn some interesting new things about the way celestial bodies interact.
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