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Neutron Star Swaps Lead To Short Gamma-Ray Bursts

The photograph at left (See larger image)shows the galactic globular cluster M15, which contains a double neutron star system that will eventually collide to create a gamma-ray burst, as shown in the inset images at right. The right-hand images are taken from a computer animation and shows several snapshots covering just a fraction of a second in total time, with time advancing from top to bottom. Recent research shows that such collisions may be the source of up to 30 percent of all short gamma-ray bursts observed from Earth. M15 Image Credit: NOAO/AURA/NSF; Merger Image Credit: NASA / Dana Berry.
by Staff Writers
Cambridge MA (SPX) Feb 01, 2006
New research suggests that short gamma-ray bursts can be caused by the rematching of pairs of neutron stars.

Gamma-ray bursts are the most powerful explosions in the universe, emitting huge amounts of high-energy radiation. Though the phenomena have mystified scientists for a long time, recent studies have shown they seem to originate from two causes: from hypernovas-the explosions of giant stars-or from the collision of neutron stars, either with each other or with a black hole.

The new work, however-by Jonathan Grindlay of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, and colleagues Simon Portegies Zwart of the Astronomical Institute of The Netherlands and Stephen McMillan of Drexel University in Philadelphia-indicates that neutron star activity within globular clusters is another potential source of the titanic events.

"As many as one-third of all short gamma-ray bursts that we observe may come from merging neutron stars in globular clusters," Grindlay said in a statement.

Globular clusters contain some of the oldest stars in the universe crammed into a tight space only a few light-years across. Such tight quarters can provoke many close encounters, some of which actually lead to partner swaps. If a neutron star with a companion, such as a white dwarf or Sun-sized star, exchanges its partner with another neutron star, the resulting pair eventually will spiral together and collide explosively, creating a GRB.

"We see these precursor systems, containing one neutron star in the form of a millisecond pulsar, all over the place in globular clusters," Grindlay said. "Plus, globular clusters are so closely packed that you have a lot of interactions. It's a natural way to make double neutron-star systems."

GRBs occur in two forms: bursts lasting a minute or more, which seem to be caused by hypernovas, and short bursts, sometimes of only a millisecond, which probably originate from neutron-star merges.

Grindlay's team performed about 3 million computer simulations to calculate the frequency with which double neutron-star systems can form in globular clusters. Knowing how many have formed over the galaxy's history, and approximately how long it takes for a system to merge, they then determined the frequency of short gamma-ray bursts expected from globular cluster binaries. They estimate between 10 and 30 percent of all short gamma-ray bursts may result from such systems.

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Rogue Star Dangers Thought Slight
Washington DC (SPX) Jan 31, 2006
Recent research showing there is a small population of hypervelocity stars streaking through the Milky Way doesn't mean there is much of a risk to humanity, either of a cataclysmic collision within the solar system or of significant gravitational disruptions.







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