(This article forms a part of the Science for All newsletter that takes the jargon out of science and puts the fun in! Subscribe now!)
Researchers have confirmed the detection of a star system that will one day end in a kilonova. Such systems are extremely rare: scientists believe that only ten star systems that exist in the Milky Way will end in kilonovae. The newfound one has been labelled CPD-29 2176, and is located about 11,400 light-years from the earth.
This week, we take a look at what a kilonova is.
You might have heard of a supernova – the explosive demise of heavy stars when they run out of fuel for nuclear fusion. A kilonova is a similar cosmic event that occurs not when stars die but when a neutron star smashes into another neutron star or a black hole.
Neutron stars are formed when massive stars explode in a supernova while their cores implode, crushing their constituent protons and electrons together into a super-dense ball of neutrons.
A kilonova releases heavy metals like gold, silver, and selenium into outer space at tremendous velocities, as well as radiation, to the accompaniment of a gamma-ray burst – one of the most energetic cosmic events ever known.
CPD-29 2176 is currently a neutron star and a star orbiting each other. Researchers expect the latter will become a neutron star as well and that the two objects will later collide.
Astronomers first detected a kilonova in 2017, when they recorded gravitational waves from such an event. CPD-29 2176 however is the first time scientists have become aware of a kilonova before it happens. So they can study the binary system now and learn more about how it evolves towards its spectacular demise.
This said, we’re not likely to be around to watch the event itself: experts have estimated the kilonova event is millions of years away.
Clarissa Pavao, an undergraduate at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, first identified CPD-29 2176 when crunching some data.
Cosmic events like kilonovae are windows into the formation of the universe. Binary neutron stars that eventually merge are one of the few natural birthplaces of heavy metals. Many of them, like iron and copper, allow life as we know it to exist.
“When we look at these objects, we’re looking backward through time. We get to know more about the origins of the universe, which will tell us where our solar system is headed. As humans, we started out with the same elements as these stars,” Ms. Pavao was quoted as saying by the university.
From the Science Pages
Deer may serve as a reservoir for old SARS-CoV-2 variants
Climate change will increase hydropower generation
Magnetite in roadside dust reveals source of pollution
What is the origin of Earth’s volatile chemicals? Find out here.
Flora & Fauna
- An elephant-turned-villain named ‘Radhakrishnan’ in Nilgiris
- Explained | Why have mangroves got a Budget push?
- Easing an albatross off the neck of the Great Indian Bustard
- Monarch butterflies, already endangered, face a new peril: California’s storms
- World Wetlands Day: In Andhra Pradesh, efforts on to save a unique wetland near Visakhapatnam