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Universe: Black hole devours neutron star like "Pac-Man"


A research team wants to see how a black hole eats a neutron star. It would be the first time that such a crash was proven beyond doubt.

According to their own statements, researchers have for the first time observed how a black hole devours a neutron star. This was reported by the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra, whose employees were involved in the investigation. The gravitational wave observatories Ligo in the US and Virgo in Italy had already caught signals from the event on August 14, according to the press release.

Thus, all three types of events have been observed, which are on the wish list of gravitational wave researchers: the fusion of two black holes, the collision of two neutron stars and just as a black hole incorporates a neutron star.

Neutron stars are the extremely dense remnants of burnt out suns. A teaspoon of neutron star matter weighs around one billion tons. About 900 million years ago, the observed black hole ate such a celestial object as Pac-Man, said Susan Scott, head of the ANU group for General Theory of Relativity and Data Analysis - "and possibly extinguished the star on the spot."

Entirely swallowed

In the video game classic Pac-Man , a hockey puck-shaped figure eats through a labyrinth and destroys points. Like the Pac-Man points, the neutron star is believed to have been swallowed up as a whole by the black hole and not torn, as one would expect, Scott said. A rending star should emit light or other radiation as it swirls into the black hole.

Officially, the event is still considered a candidate for a neutron star merger with a black hole. The final confirmation is pending. But researchers estimate the likelihood that this is an event currently at 99.8 percent.

Space explorers have never discovered a black hole smaller than five solar masses or a neutron star more than 2.5 times the mass of our Sun. "Because of this experience, we are very sure that we have just located a black hole that devours a neutron star," said Scott.

The exact masses of the observed objects would still be determined. There is a "small but intriguing possibility" that the tangled object is a very light black hole - much easier than any other black hole known in the universe. "That would be a fantastic consolation prize," Scott said.

Source: zeit

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