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Smallest black hole or biggest neutron star spotted

Christian Fernsby ▼ | June 24, 2020
Astronomers have detected what could be either the tiniest black hole or the largest neutron star found to date.
Massive objects   GW190814
Gravitational waves are emitted when two massive objects collide and merge with one another. The energy of the impact event ripples through spacetime, and these signals are detected by measuring the movement of mirrors in laser interferometers.

Several gravitational wave events have been confirmed since their discovery in 2015, but none of them are as unusual as the one reported in a paper published Tuesday in The Astrophysical Journal Letters.

The source of the collision is between a black hole of 23 solar masses and a mysterious, unknown object of 2.6 solar masses. "We don't know if this object is the heaviest known neutron star, or the lightest known black hole, but either way it breaks a record," said Vicky Kalogera, co-author of the study and a professor at Northwestern University.

The gravitational wave merger, codenamed GW190814, occurred following a collision between an object about nine times heavier than the other the largest difference in mass detected yet.

"It's a challenge for current theoretical models to form merging pairs of compact objects with such a large mass ratio in which the low-mass partner resides in the mass gap," Kalogera said.

"The mystery object may be a neutron star merging with a black hole, an exciting possibility expected theoretically but not yet confirmed observationally."

The researchers failed to find any signs that the small object was tidally locked to its larger black hole companion, which would indicate that it is.