Researchers bring the scientific community closer to understanding binary star mergers | 5/23/2018 | Staff
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The Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico is the site of the world’s second-largest single-dish radio telescope. Credit: Arecibo Observatory, a facility of the National Science Foundation.

Imagine only knowing 15 people in the world, and as you discover more people, your knowledge expands. Scientists studying our galaxy face something similar as they make discoveries that build our understanding of the universe.

Maura - McLaughlin - Duncan - Lorimer - Professors

Maura McLaughlin and Duncan Lorimer, professors of physics and astronomy at West Virginia University, have discovered a new pair of pulsars and have followed up on characteristics of another new duo. Their research will bring insights into the understanding of the how many of these systems exist and the rate in which they merge in our galaxy.

Pulsars are rapidly rotating neutron stars, the remains of massive stars that have exploded as supernovae.

Pulsars - Trajectories - Mercury - Orbit - Sun

When two pulsars orbit each other, their trajectories can be highly elliptical, much like Mercury's orbit around the sun, but the gravitational attraction between the two massive objects pulls them gradually closer until they merge. The collision is so immense that it sends ripples through space and time.

"These pulsars are moving very rapidly around each other," Lorimer said. "So rapidly, in fact, that they're starting to test our understanding of gravity."

Pulsars - Types - Milky - Way - Systems

There are 2,500 pulsars of all types in the Milky Way, but among them, binary systems are rarely found. Scientists have discovered just 15, but they believe there could be as many as 100,000.

McLaughlin and collaborators from universities in the U.S. and abroad discovered a new binary system in a long-term survey using the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Discovery - Neutron - Stars - McLaughlin - Discovery

"The discovery of double neutron stars orbiting each other is important," McLaughlin said. "But our discovery is also extreme in the sense that it has a short orbital period, making it potentially exciting for tests of gravity."

The binary orbit for this discovery...
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