This artist's concept depicts the two stars colliding.
This artist's concept depicts the two stars colliding.
--National Science Foundation/LIGO/Sonoma State University/A. Simonnet
Scientists have spotted the merger of two neutron stars -- the first event observed in both gravitational waves (ripples in the fabric of space time) and the spectrum of light, according to the University of Maryland.

   The merger of these neutron stars -- the collapsed cores that remain after large stars die in a supernova explosion -- occurred in the constellation Hydra, about 130 million light-years from Earth, according to the university's news release. Before the event, each star was slightly more massive than the sun.
     As the stars spiraled together, "the pair emitted gravitational waves that were detectable for about 100 seconds," the news release recounts. The collision produced the gamma-ray burst detected two seconds later by NASA's Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope.
    Previously, scientists had theorized that when neutron stars collide, they give off gravitational waves and gamma rays, "along with powerful jets that emit light across the electromagnetic spectrum," the news release says, adding that the observations confirm that some short gamma-ray bursts are generated by the merging of neutron stars.  
     The observation was an international effort. The Fermi Gamma-ray Space Telescope picked up "a pulse of high-energy light from a powerful explosion," shortly after 8:41 a.m., Eastern time, on Aug. 17, according to the NASA account.The report was shared with  astronomers around the globe as a short gamma-ray burst. At the National Science Foundation, scientists using the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory detected gravitational waves from a pair of smashing stars tied to the gamma-ray burst. Shortly after, the burst was detected as part of a follow-up analysis by a European Space Agency satellite.

NASA WORKING ON RADIATION OBSTACLE: Could radiation exposure put a stop to space travel?
       While that's a sizable obstacle, NASA is working on mitigation techniques so that crew members can go to Mars and return in good shape.
      To protect the crew and equipment, researchers are developing shields for transport vehicles, habitats and space suits that astronauts might use on Mars. They have experience with radiation already. The International Space Station,  approximately 250 miles above the Earth, is within the planet's protective magnetic field. Even so, “astronauts receive over ten times the radiation than what’s naturally occurring on Earth,” according to a NASA news release.  
        Outside the magnetic field, they will be exposed to galactic cosmic rays, which NASA defines as “atomic nuclei from which all of the surrounding electrons have been stripped away during their high-speed passage through the galaxy.” Galactic cosmic rays “are so energetic they can tear right through metals, plastic, water and cellular material,” the news release explains.

CHINESE SPACE LAB TUMBLING: The name, Tiangong 1, means heavenly palace, but the Chinese space lab may not be heavenly much longer.
         The 8.5-ton space station is expected to crash to the surface within a few months, according to The’s website.  The article quotes Jonathan McDowell, astrophysicist from Harvard University, who says the craft could come down in a few months.
         Much of the space station should burn up in the atmosphere, according to the report. But some pieces -- weighing 100 kilograms or roughly 220 pounds -- could impact Earth.  It’s unlikely that anyone would be hurt, but China has assured the United Nations that it is monitoring the spacecraft’s descent. 
       The report made by China to the United Nations recounted that Tiangong 1 was launched Sept. 29, 2011, and conducted six successive rendezvous with Chinese spacecraft. In March 2016, it stopped functioning, but by then, it had fulfilled its mission.


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