(ORDO NEWS) — When astronomers around the world watched the epic collision of two neutron stars in 2017, it was only the beginning.
The implications of such a massive, never-before-seen merger both immediate and long-term should have been exciting, interesting, and deeply informative.
When two neutron stars collided, they ejected a jet of matter that, in our opinion, flew into space at a speed seven times the speed of light.
This is of course impossible, according to our current understanding of physics. This phenomenon is known as FTL, which, despite its name, is actually an illusion based on our angle of view. However, even after the speed was adjusted, the jet was insanely fast.
“Our result shows that the jet was traveling at least 99.97% of the speed of light at launch,” says astronomer Wenbin Lu of the University of California, Berkeley.
The data on the jet was taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, which took a series of observations about 8 days later and then again about 159 days after the merger observed here on Earth in August 2017.
By combining their data, the researchers could construct a kind of measurement called very long baseline interferometry (VLBI).
Based on these observations and months of analysis, a team led by astronomer Kunal Muli at the California Institute of Technology was able to first identify and then track the motion of a jet formed when two superdense stellar cores collided.
FTL occurs when something approaches us at a fast enough speed, very close to our line of sight.
As an object approaches, the distance it takes for its light to reach us shrinks something we don’t usually need to take into account in our daily lives, where the light seems to move instantly (compared to our slow movements).
In this case, the jet is moving almost as fast as the light it emits, giving the illusion that its own light appears to cover greater distances than it does (and therefore travels at an impossible speed).
Thus, uncovering true speed requires accurate data and a lot of calculations.
The Hubble data showed a superluminal speed of seven times the speed of light. VLBI data taken between 75 and 230 days after the merger, and described in a previous article, showed that the jet later slowed down to superluminal speeds, four times the speed of light.
“The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) should perform much better astrometry than the Hubble Space Telescope due to its larger acquisition area and smaller pixel size…
It could be even more powerful and could impose severe limits on the viewing angles of neutron star mergers located at a distance of up to 150 Mpc [about 500 million light years],” the astronomers say.
Now it remains to wait for another collision of neutron stars …
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