The universe has there is no shortage of oddities, and researchers at the National Science Foundation’s NOIRLab have observed another as a peculiar binary star system. The system, called CPD-29 2176, will eventually trigger a kilonova, a celestial event in which two neutron stars collide in a massive explosion that forms heavy elements including gold and platinum.
CPD-29 2176 is located approximately 11,400 light-years from Earth and was discovered by researchers using NASA’s Neil Gehrels Swift Observatory. The astronomers then made further observations at NOIRLab’s Cerro Tololo Inter-American Observatory in Chile. CPD-29 2176 is home to a neutron star and a massive star that is going supernova, to become a second neutron star in the future. Eventually, the two neutron stars will collide, producing a kilonova, an explosion believed to produce gamma ray bursts and large amounts of gold and platinum. The paper documenting the research team’s discovery is published today in Nature.
“We know that the Milky Way contains at least 100 billion stars and probably hundreds of billions more. This remarkable binary system is essentially a one in ten billion system,” said André-Nicolas Chené in a NOIRLab press release. Chené is a NOIRLab astronomer and an author of the study. “Before our study, the estimate was that only one or two of these systems should exist in a spiral galaxy like the Milky Way.”
While many imploding stars were a powerful supernova when they died, the dying star of CPD-29 2176 becomes an ultra-stripped supernova. An ultra-stripped supernova does not have the large amount of strength that a typical supernova has, since the dying star has had much of its mass stripped away by its companion. The researchers believe the neutron star in the system was also formed with an ultra-stripped supernova and argue that this is why CPD-29 2176 is able to stick around as a binary – a typical supernova would have enough of power to kick a mate. star out of its orbit.
“The current neutron star should form without ejecting its companion from the system. An ultra-stripped supernova is the best explanation for why these companion stars are in such a tight orbit,” said lead author Noel D. Richardson, professor of physics and astronomy at Embry Aeronautical University. Riddle, in the NOIRLab press release. “To one day create a kilonova, the other star would also have to explode as an ultra-stripped supernova so that the two neutron stars could eventually collide and merge.”
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It will take about a million years for the star undergoing an ultra-bare supernova to transform into a neutron star. This is when the two stars will begin to spiral into each other, eventually culminating in the metal-producing kilonova, according to the research. In these dramatic cosmic endings, we can expect the creation of the same elements that make life possible.
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