Imagine a dead star the size of a city and with more mass than our sun. Now imagine two of these ultra-heavy spheres smashing into each other, generating a blast bright enough to outshine an entire galaxy. Scientists have recreated just that using supercomputers to model what happens during the collision of two neutron stars. The entire process unfolds in just 35 thousandths of a second, but what this new analysis reveals is how the tangled magnetic field lines of the collapsed neutron stars restructure around a black hole, focusing a narrow stream of particles that jet into space at 99.995 percent the speed of light. Scientists believe events like this are one source of gamma-ray bursts—the powerful flashes of light from beyond the Milky Way that were first detected by satellites in the late 1960s. Watch the visualization below to see this lightning-fast cosmic wreck evolve in super-slow motion.
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center
Image courtesy of NASA/AEI/ZIB/M.