Astronomers discover ‘extremely rare’ pair of neutron stars about to blow up

Astronomers have seen the first example of an extremely rare type of star system that is destined to one day blow up in an “almighty” gold-producing explosion.

Such stars destined to become “kilonova” explosions are so rare that only about 10 such systems are known in the entire Milky Way Galaxy, scientists from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University said in the SA.

Previous research has shown that these explosions were caused by the merger of two extremely small and compact cosmic entities, known as neutron stars.

Researchers describe the newly discovered unusual star system called CPD-29 2176 – located about 11,400 light-years from Earth – in a new study published last week in the journal Nature.

Using the Smarts 1.5m telescope in Chile, scientists were able to determine the orbital characteristics and types of stars in this system.

They discovered that this star system was strangely made up of a neutron star and another massive star that was orbiting closely in an “ultrastripe supernova” with most of its outer atmosphere destroyed.

“To one day create a kilonova, the other star would also have to explode as an ultra-stripe supernova so that the two neutron stars could eventually collide and merge,” study co-author Noel D Richardson, from Embry-Aeronautical University Riddle, explained in a statement.

Studying such systems destined to become cilinova could reveal how such explosions form and also shed light on the origin of the heaviest elements in the universe, such as gold, uranium and thorium, scientists said.

“For quite some time, astronomers have been speculating about the exact conditions that could lead to a Chilean nova,” said AndrĂ©-Nicolas ChenĂ©, another study author.

“These new results show that, at least in some cases, two sibling neutron stars can merge when one of them was created without a classic supernova explosion,” Dr Chene said.

Although the Milky Way is known to contain at least 100 billion stars, such chianova are so rare that the binary system they originate from is a “one-in-ten-billion system”.

“Prior to our study, the estimate was that there should only be one or two such systems in a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way,” Dr Chene explained.

However, scientists said that the explosion is not imminent.

It could take at least a million years for the massive star to end its life and leave behind a second neutron star.

Afterwards, when the two neutron stars eventually merge, the resulting kilonova explosion will produce powerful gravitational waves and leave behind large amounts of heavy elements such as gold and silver, the scientists explained.

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