Science

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West Virginia grad students and professors detect most massive neutron star ever measured Monday

According to the nature journal, Nature Astronomy, graduate Students and Professors from West Virginia University helped discover the most massive neutron star ever detected Monday. The student researchers at the Green Bank Telescope in Pocahontas County detected the neutron star J0740+6620 about 4,600 lightyears away from Earth. This neutron star is believed to have a mass 2.17 times the mass of the sun in a sphere of only fifteen miles across, making it the most massive ever discovered. The mass of J0740+6620 is approaching the current limit known to researchers for a single object. If J0740+6620 were to have a greater mass it would implode and create a black hole. ~

One of the Authors of the research published in Nature Astronomy was Professor of Physics and Astronomy Maura McLaughlin. McLaughlin gave some insight into how this type of research is conducted and how she and her associates were able to detect J0740+6620. McLaughlin said, “At Green Bank, we’re trying to detect gravitational waves from pulsars,” which are rapidly rotating neutron stars that regularly emit radio waves or other emissions. The research team was able to discover J0740+6620 through a phenomenon known as the Shapiro Delay. This phenomenon takes place in accordance with Einstein’s general theory of relativity when the gravity of a white dwarf companion star warps the space surrounding it. This phenomenon causes the waves emitted from the pulsar to be warped by the white dwarf causing a delay researchers can detect and measure. This delay allows for the measurement of both the masses of the white dwarf, as well as the neutron star. ~

This discovery has raised many questions about the known laws surrounding neutron stars. Mclaughlin touched on this subject when she said, “These stars are very exotic, we don’t know what they are made of and one really important question is, ‘How massive can you make one of these stars?’” The discovery of J0740+6620 may also have greater implications on the future of black hole research, and more specifically on the tipping point of when gravity wins out over matter and forms a black hole. ~

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