Two Big Cosmic Gulps
Posted: September 1, 2021
G-u-l-p. It took a split second. For the first time, astronomers noted that a black hole had swallowed a neutron star. Ten days later, they detected the same thing as it happened again—far away from the first. Two neutron stars gobbled up by the gravity of black holes––talk about a heavy space snack!
A neutron star is what is left over when a big star dies in space. Neutron stars are dense. That means they have a great mass that is concentrated into a small space. If one could exist on Earth where there is gravity, and if it could be weighed, it would be super heavy—much heavier than the Sun. One teaspoon of a neutron star would weigh a billion tons! These stars are about six miles wide. God knows every single star in the sky. He placed them there. Psalm 147:4 says, “He determines the number of the stars; He gives to all of them their names.”
A black hole is an area within space and time where gravity is so strong that nothing can escape it. Not even light! In space, a black hole is the final point of no return. The moment the neutron star crashed together with the black hole, the neutron star was gone. It took far less than a minute.
“It was just a big quick (gulp), gone,” says study co-author Patrick Brady, an astrophysicist at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. The black hole “gets a nice dinner of a neutron star and makes itself just a little bit more massive.”
How did astronomers know when the collision was coming? They couldn’t actually see it happen, like looking at a planet with a telescope. Instead, they watched gravitational waves. Bursts of energy rippled through space. The movement was a sign of the event.
In the past, astronomers have seen waves made from two black holes colliding. They’ve also watched waves made from two neutron stars colliding. But this is the first time they’ve ever seen a neutron star crash into a black hole. It was unexpected. The event changes how scientists think about the way different bodies in space interact.