New, most complete start-to-finish view of neutron star merger rewrites the way scientists understand these events — ScienceDaily


It’s been three years since the landmark detection of a neutron star merger from gravitational waves. And since that day, an international team of researchers led by University of Maryland astronomer Eleonora Troja has been continuously monitoring the subsequent radiation emissions to provide the most complete picture of such an event.

Their analysis provides possible explanations for X-rays that continued to radiate from the collision long after models predicted they would stop. The study also reveals that current models of neutron stars and compact body collisions are missing important information. The research was published on October 12, 2020, in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

“We are entering a new phase in our understanding of neutron stars,” said Troja, an associate research scientist in UMD’s Department of Astronomy and lead author of the paper. “We really don’t know what to expect from this point forward, because all our models were predicting no X-rays and we were surprised to see them 1,000 days after the collision event was detected. It may take years to find out the answer to what is going on, but our research opens the door to many possibilities.

The neutron star merger that Troja’s team studied — GW170817 — was first identified from gravitational waves detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory and its counterpart Virgo on August 17, 2017. Within hours, telescopes around the world began observing electromagnetic radiation, including gamma rays and light emitted from the explosion. It was the first and only time astronomers were able to observe the radiation associated with gravity waves, although they long knew such radiation occurs. All other gravity waves observed to date have originated from events too weak and too far away for the radiation to be detected from Earth.

Seconds after GW170817 was