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Astronomers discover what makes the biggest explosions in space

New study figures out how stars produce gamma ray bursts.

Artist's impression of gamma-ray burst with orbiting binary star.

University of Warwick/Mark Garlick
  • Researchers find out how binary star systems produce gamma ray bursts.
  • Gamma ray bursts are the brightest explosions in the Universe.
  • Tidal effects created in a binary system keep the stars spinning fast and create the bursts.


Giant space explosions capture our imaginations, even though they take place unimaginably far and reach us years later. Now, a team of astronomers figured out how gamma-ray bursts – the biggest and the brightest bangs in the Universe take place.

What the researchers from the University of Warwick in the UK understood is that tidal effects, like those between our own Moon and the Earth, can cause the enormous space explosions.

To arrive at their conclusions, the astronomers looked at simulated models of thousands of binary star systems, which are solar systems where two stars orbit each other. Over half of all stars reside in such arrangements.

The research showed that the spinning of stars in binary systems can cause conditions for a gamma-ray burst to take place.

Specifically, the long gamma-ray bursts (GRB) that the study looked at, happen when a gigantic star that's ten times bigger than our sun explodes. It goes supernova, collapsing into a neutron star or turning into a black hole, while shooting out a massive jet into space.

The scientists explain that what happens next is that the star flattens out into a disc, keeping its angular momentum. The star's material falls inwards but this momentum propels it out as a jet – along the polar axis, as explains the press release.

Cosmic death beams: Understanding gamma ray bursts

Another aspect that is important to the creation of the jet – the star has to spin fast enough to launch such materials. While normally stars would slow down their spin quickly, tidal effects from a neighboring star could keep the spin rate high enough to cause gamma-ray bursts.

This effect is similar to the spin interaction between the Earth and its Moon.

The study's lead author Ashley Chrimes, a PhD student in the University of Warwick Department of Physics, explained that the team's accomplishment is in figuring out how to predict what types of stars cause "the biggest explosions in the Universe."

"We found that the effect of a star's tides on its partner is stopping them from slowing down and, in some cases, it is spinning them up," Chrimes elaborated. "They are stealing rotational energy from their companion, a consequence of which is that they then drift further away."

In another takeaway, the scientists found that most of the fast-spinning stars are doing so because of being locked in a binary system.

The binary stellar evolution models used in the study were devised by researchers from the University of Warwick and Dr. J. J. Eldridge from the University of Auckland. Dr. Elizabeth Stanway from the University of Warwick's Department of Physics pointed out that the models are of previously-impossible sophistication and will be expanded further "to explore different astrophysical transients, such as fast radio bursts, and can potentially model rarer events such as black holes spiralling into stars."

Check out the paper on this discovery in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

Remote learning vs. online instruction: How COVID-19 woke America up to the difference

Educators and administrators must build new supports for faculty and student success in a world where the classroom might become virtual in the blink of an eye.

Credit: Shutterstock
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • If you or someone you know is attending school remotely, you are more than likely learning through emergency remote instruction, which is not the same as online learning, write Rich DeMillo and Steve Harmon.
  • Education institutions must properly define and understand the difference between a course that is designed from inception to be taught in an online format and a course that has been rapidly converted to be offered to remote students.
  • In a future involving more online instruction than any of us ever imagined, it will be crucial to meticulously design factors like learner navigation, interactive recordings, feedback loops, exams and office hours in order to maximize learning potential within the virtual environment.
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Octopus-like creatures inhabit Jupiter’s moon, claims space scientist

A leading British space scientist thinks there is life under the ice sheets of Europa.

Jupiter's moon Europa has a huge ocean beneath its sheets of ice.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute
Surprising Science
  • A British scientist named Professor Monica Grady recently came out in support of extraterrestrial life on Europa.
  • Europa, the sixth largest moon in the solar system, may have favorable conditions for life under its miles of ice.
  • The moon is one of Jupiter's 79.
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White dwarfs hold key to life in the universe, suggests study

New study shows white dwarf stars create an essential component of life.

White dwarfs.

NASA and H. Richer (University of British Columbia)
Surprising Science
  • White dwarf stars create carbon atoms in the Milky Way galaxy, shows new study.
  • Carbon is an essential component of life.
  • White dwarfs make carbon in their hot insides before the stars die.
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"Forced empathy" is a powerful negotiation tool. Here's how to do it.

Master negotiator Chris Voss breaks down how to get what you want during negotiations.

Juan Carlos Correa (L) , a prospective home buyer is shown a short sale home by Denise Madan, a Real Estate agent with Re/Max, as he shops for a house on April 22, 2014 in Coral Gables, Florida.

Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Personal Growth
  • Former FBI negotiator Chris Voss explains how forced empathy is a powerful negotiating tactic.
  • The key is starting a sentence with "What" or "How," causing the other person to look at the situation through your eyes.
  • What appears to signal weakness is turned into a strength when using this tactic.
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