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Scientists Are 99 Percent Sure They Just Detected a Black Hole Eating a Neutron Star

An anonymous reader quotes a report from Motherboard: On Wednesday, a gravitational wave called S190814bv was detected by the U.S.-based Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO) and its Italian counterpart Virgo. Based on its known properties, scientists think there is a 99% probability that the source of the wave is a black hole that ate a neutron star. In contrast to black hole mergers, neutron star collisions do produce a lot of light. When a gravitational wave from a neutron star crash was detected in 2017, scientists were able to pinpoint bright emissions from the event — called an optical counterpart — in the days that followed the wave detection. This marked the dawn of a technique called “multi-messenger astronomy,” in which scientists use multiple types of signals from space to examine astronomical objects.

Ryan Foley, an astronomer at UC Santa Cruz, was part of the team that tracked down that first optical counterpart, a feat that has not yet been repeated. He and his colleagues are currently scanning the skies with telescopes, searching for any light that might have been radiated by the new suspected merger of a black hole and neutron star. If the team were to pick up light from the event within the coming weeks, they would be witnessing the fallout of a black hole spilling a neutron star’s guts while devouring it. This would provide a rare glimpse of the exotic properties of these extreme astronomical objects and could shed light on everything from subatomic physics to the expansion rate of the universe. “We’ve never detected a neutron star and a black hole together,” said Foley. “If it turns out to be right, then we’ve confirmed a new type of star system. It’s that fundamental.” He added: “If you learn about how neutron stars are built, that can tell you about how atoms are built. This is something that is fundamental to everything in our daily life works.”

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