Two Galaxies Collided to Create a Ring of Black Holes... Or Neutron Stars

Tuesday, 11 September 2018 - 10:44AM
Astronomy
Space
Black Holes
Tuesday, 11 September 2018 - 10:44AM
Two Galaxies Collided to Create a Ring of Black Holes... Or Neutron Stars
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Image Credit: Modified by Outer Places, original by NASA/Goddard
A while ago, we reported on Sean Raymond's fascinating research into whether Isaac Asimov's fictional planet Kalgash (which was bathed in near-perpetual daylight) could exist. According to Raymond, all it would take would be a ring of eight stars, a black hole, and the right orbits. Of course, the universe doesn't create nice rings of stars naturally...does it? Well, thanks to a new study published in The Astrophysical Journal, we now have an idea of how it might happen.

The study focuses on the galaxy AM 0644-741, which is about 300 million light-years away from Earth. AM 0644 contains a very large number of ultraluminous X-ray sources, or ULXs, which are thought to be either relatively small black holes or neutron stars, both of which are potential products of a dying star: if a star has a lot of mass, it may eventually explode into a supernova, then transform into a black hole... OR it might just collapse into a neutron star, which are some of the weirdest bodies in the universe.

It seems as though these ULXs are arranged in a ring around the periphery of the galaxy, indicating that their original stars were, too. The current theory for their arrangement is that AM 0644 collided with another galaxy whose gravitational force sent ripples through AM 0644 and ignited new stars by messing with the distribution of gas.

According to spokespeople from the Chandra X-ray Observatory, one of the institutions associated with the study: "The most massive of these fledgling stars will lead short lives - in cosmic terms - of millions of years. After that, their nuclear fuel is spent, and the stars explode as supernovas, leaving behind either black holes with masses typically between about five to twenty times that of the sun, or neutron stars with a mass approximately equal to that of the sun."

Though the ring is on a different scale than Asimov envisioned, the discovery of these ULXs demonstrates that the right combination of gravity, gas, and time can create some strange phenomena—maybe even a real-life Kalgash.
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