The state-of-the-art simulation ran for nearly seven weeks on the Damiana computer cluster at the Albert Einstein Institute (AEI) in Potsdam, Germany. It traces events that unfold over 35 milliseconds -- about three times faster than the blink of an eye.
GRBs are among the brightest events known, emitting as much energy in a few seconds as our entire galaxy does in a year. Most of this emission comes in the form of gamma rays, the highest-energy form of light.
"For the first time, we've managed to run the simulation well past the merger and the formation of the black hole," said Chryssa Kouveliotou, a co-author of the study at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala. "This is by far the longest simulation of this process, and only on sufficiently long timescales does the magnetic field grow and reorganize itself from a chaotic structure into something resembling a jet."
GRBs longer than two seconds are the most common type and are widely thought to be triggered by the collapse of a massive star into a black hole. As matter falls toward the black hole, some of it forms jets in the opposite direction that move near the speed of light. These jets bore through the collapsing star along its rotational axis and produce a blast of gamma rays after they emerge. Understanding short GRBs, which fade quickly, proved more elusive. Astronomers had difficulty obtaining precise positions for follow-up studies.
That began to change in 2004, when NASA’s Swift satellite began rapidly locating bursts and alerting astronomers where to look.
"For more than two decades, the leading model of short GRBs was the merger of two neutron stars," said co-author Bruno Giacomazzo at the University of Maryland and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "Only now can we show that the merger of neutron stars actually produces an ultrastrong magnetic field structured like the jets needed for a GRB."
A neutron star is the compressed core left behind when a star weighing less than about 30 times the sun's mass explodes as a supernova. Its matter reaches densities that cannot be reproduced on Earth -- a single spoonful outweighs the Himalayan Mountains.
The simulation began with a pair of magnetized neutron stars orbiting just 11 miles apart. Each star packed 1.5 times the mass of the sun into a sphere just 17 miles across and generated a magnetic field about a trillion times stronger than the sun's.
In 15 milliseconds, the two neutron stars crashed, merged and transformed into a rapidly spinning black hole weighing 2.9 suns. The edge of the black hole, known as its event horizon, spanned less than six miles. A swirling chaos of superdense matter with temperatures exceeding 18 billion degrees Fahrenheit surrounded the newborn black hole. The merger amplified the strength of the combined magnetic field, but it also scrambled it into disarray.
Over the next 11 milliseconds, gas swirling close to the speed of light continued to amplify the magnetic field, which ultimately became a thousand times stronger than the neutron stars' original fields. At the same time, the field became more organized and gradually formed a pair of outwardly directed funnels along the black hole's rotational axis.
This is exactly the configuration needed to power the jets of ultrafast particles that produce a short gamma-ray burst. Neither of the magnetic funnels was filled with high-speed matter when the simulation ended, but earlier studies have shown that jet formation can occur under these conditions.
"By solving Einstein's relativity equations as never before and letting nature take its course, we've lifted the veil on short GRBs and revealed what could be their central engine," said Luciano Rezzolla, the study's lead author at AEI. "This is a long-awaited result. Now it appears that neutron star mergers inevitably produce aligned jet-like structures in an ultrastrong magnetic field."
The study is available online and will appear in the May 1 edition of The Astrophysical Journal Letters.
The authors note the ultimate proof of the merger model will have to await the detection of gravitational waves -- ripples in the fabric of space-time predicted by relativity. Merging neutron stars are expected to be prominent sources, so the researchers also computed what the model's gravitational-wave signal would look like. Observatories around the world are searching for gravitational waves, so far without success because the signals are so faint.Lynn Chandler
Francis Reddy | EurekAlert!
Mars 2020 mission to use smart methods to seek signs of past life
17.08.2017 | Goldschmidt Conference
Gold shines through properties of nano biosensors
17.08.2017 | American Institute of Physics
Whether you call it effervescent, fizzy, or sparkling, carbonated water is making a comeback as a beverage. Aside from quenching thirst, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign have discovered a new use for these "bubbly" concoctions that will have major impact on the manufacturer of the world's thinnest, flattest, and one most useful materials -- graphene.
As graphene's popularity grows as an advanced "wonder" material, the speed and quality at which it can be manufactured will be paramount. With that in mind,...
Physicists at the University of Bonn have managed to create optical hollows and more complex patterns into which the light of a Bose-Einstein condensate flows. The creation of such highly low-loss structures for light is a prerequisite for complex light circuits, such as for quantum information processing for a new generation of computers. The researchers are now presenting their results in the journal Nature Photonics.
Light particles (photons) occur as tiny, indivisible portions. Many thousands of these light portions can be merged to form a single super-photon if they are...
For the first time, scientists have shown that circular RNA is linked to brain function. When a RNA molecule called Cdr1as was deleted from the genome of mice, the animals had problems filtering out unnecessary information – like patients suffering from neuropsychiatric disorders.
While hundreds of circular RNAs (circRNAs) are abundant in mammalian brains, one big question has remained unanswered: What are they actually good for? In the...
An experimental small satellite has successfully collected and delivered data on a key measurement for predicting changes in Earth's climate.
The Radiometer Assessment using Vertically Aligned Nanotubes (RAVAN) CubeSat was launched into low-Earth orbit on Nov. 11, 2016, in order to test new...
A study led by scientists of the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter (MPSD) at the Center for Free-Electron Laser Science in Hamburg presents evidence of the coexistence of superconductivity and “charge-density-waves” in compounds of the poorly-studied family of bismuthates. This observation opens up new perspectives for a deeper understanding of the phenomenon of high-temperature superconductivity, a topic which is at the core of condensed matter research since more than 30 years. The paper by Nicoletti et al has been published in the PNAS.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, superconductivity had been observed in some metals at temperatures only a few degrees above the absolute zero (minus...
16.08.2017 | Event News
04.08.2017 | Event News
26.07.2017 | Event News
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
17.08.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.08.2017 | Physics and Astronomy