"Artist's impression of merging neutron stars" by University of Warwick/Mark Garlick / CC BY 4.0

Scientists spot a ‘kilonova’ flash so bright they can barely explain it

Nov 12, 2020

By Meghan Bartels

Scientists may have caught the blinding flash of two dense neutron stars colliding to form a strange magnetic star.

The first sign of the massive event was a gamma-ray beacon that appeared in telescope data on May 22, prompting astronomers to assemble their best instruments. That response was important: Scientists believe gamma-ray bursts usually stem from neutron stars colliding so they are eager to see as many views of such fireworks as possible. But as observations came in, researchers realized there was something strange going on: The flash included far more infrared light than predicted, 10 times more. The scientists behind the new research think that discrepancy may mean the crash produced something unexpected.

“These observations do not fit traditional explanations for short gamma-ray bursts,” Wen-fai Fong, an astronomer at Northwestern University in Illinois and lead author on the new research, said in a statement. “Given what we know about the radio and X-rays from this blast, it just doesn’t match up.”

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