How Massive Can Neutron Stars Get?

Posted: Jan 19 2018, 1:05am CST | by , Updated: Jan 19 2018, 1:07am CST, in News | Latest Science News

 
How Massive Can Neutron Stars Get?
Credit: NASA

Astronomers have set a new limit for the maximum mass of neutron stars

Neutron stars are one of the most spectacularly violent phenomena in the Universe. They are the remnants left behind after the large stars explode as supernovae.

Neutron stars have attracted attention from astronomers since their discovery in 1960s and gave rise to the question: how massive can these stars actually become? Now, astrophysicists at Goethe University Frankfurt have for the first calculated the maximum limit of the mass of neutron stars.

A neutron star typically would have a mass that is about 1.4 times the mass of our sun. These stars are incredibly dense objects, which can produce gravitational fields comparable to those of black holes. However, unlike black hole collisions that produce almost no signature other than gravitational waves, the collision of neutron stars can generate both shockwaves and light flashes.

To better understand the phenomena, Frankfurt researchers have already developed an approach called “universal relations” and it implies that that practically all neutron stars are look alike, meaning that their properties can be expressed in terms of dimensionless quantities or without any physical unit.

When researchers combined these "universal relations" of neutron stars with data on gravitational-wave signals and the subsequent electromagnetic radiation obtained during the last year’s observations of two merging neutron stars in LIGO experiment, they were able to determine a new limit for the maximum mass of neutron stars. Based on the data, researchers suggest that the maximum mass of non-rotating neutron stars cannot exceed 2.16 solar masses.

There is still no unique theoretical model for neutron stars. This equation, however, can work as a theoretical model for describing dense matter inside a star, thus providing information on its composition at various depths. The information allowed researchers to define neutron star’s new maximum mass.

"The beauty of theoretical research is that it can make predictions. Theory, however, desperately needs experiments to narrow down some of its uncertainties," said study researcher Professor Luciano Rezzolla. "It's therefore quite remarkable that the observation of a single binary neutron star merger that occurred millions of light years away combined with the universal relations discovered through our theoretical work have allowed us to solve a riddle that has seen so much speculation in the past."

Researchers hope that more observations of colliding neutron stars will further reduce uncertainties about their maximum mass and lead to a better understanding of matter under extreme conditions.

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