Neutron star merger
A neutron star merger is a type of stellar collision. It occurs in a fashion similar to the rare brand of type Ia supernovae resulting from merging white dwarfs. When two neutron stars orbit each other closely, they spiral inward as time passes due to gravitational radiation. When the two neutron stars meet, their merger leads to the formation of either a more massive neutron star, or a black hole (depending on whether the mass of the remnant exceeds the currently poorly known Tolman–Oppenheimer–Volkoff limit). The merger can also create a magnetic field that is trillions of times stronger than that of Earth in a matter of one or two milliseconds. These events are believed to create short gamma-ray bursts. The mergers are also believed to produce kilonovae, which are transient sources of fairly isotropic longer wave electromagnetic radiation due to the radioactive decay of heavy r-process nuclei that are produced and ejected during the merger process.
On 17 August 2017, LIGO/Virgo collaboration detected a pulse of gravitational waves, named GW170817, associated with the merger of two neutron stars in NGC 4993, an elliptical galaxy in the constellation Hydra. GW170817 also seemed related to a short (~ 2 second long) gamma-ray burst, GRB 170817A, first detected 1.7 seconds after the GW merger signal, and a visible light observational event first observed 11 hours afterwards, SSS17a.
The association of GW170817 with GRB 170817A in both space and time is strong evidence that neutron star mergers do create short gamma-ray bursts. The subsequent detection of an SSS17a in the area in which GW170817 and GRB 170817A were known to have occurred and its having the expected characteristics for a kilonova is strong evidence that neutron star mergers do produce kilonovae.
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The optical and near-infrared spectra over these few days provided convincing arguments that this transient was unlike any other discovered in extensive optical wide-ﬁeld surveys over the past decade.
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