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Astrophysicists discover why black holes and neutron stars shine bright

Researchers find what causes the glow coming from the densest objects in our universe.

Crab Nebula.

Credit: NASA, ESA, J. Hester (Arizona State University)
  • Columbia University astrophysicists discovered the cause of the unusual glow coming from regions of space with black holes and neutron stars.
  • The researchers ran some of the largest computer simulations ever to reach their conclusions.
  • They found that turbulence and reconnection of super-strong magnetic fields are responsible for the light.


Demonstrating again that space is a limitless reservoir of scientific wonders, a new study discovered why areas hosting black holes and neutron stars emit strange bright glows. Astrophysicists found that turbulence and reconnection of super-strong magnetic fields are behind the cosmic mystery.

The cause of the phenomenon, which illuminates these super-dense parts of space, has been attributed previously to high-energy electromagnetic radiation. Scientists speculated that it's created by electrons moving at just about the speed of light. The new study from researchers at Columbia University explained why these particles accelerate.

Astrophysicists Luca Comisso and Lorenzo Sironi carried out the research by running some of the largest super-computer simulations ever conducted in this area. They managed to calculate the trajectories of hundreds of billions of charged particles.

Comiso, a postdoctoral research scientist at Columbia, explained their conclusion:

"Turbulence and magnetic reconnection—a process in which magnetic field lines tear and rapidly reconnect—conspire together to accelerate particles, boosting them to velocities that approach the speed of light," said Comisso in a press release.

As Comiso further described, the space region that is home to black holes and neutron stars is also full of a super-hot gas of charged particles. Their chaotic motion affects magnetic field lines and results in "vigorous magnetic reconnection". This, in turn, creates an electric field which accelerates particles to energies that are "much higher than in the most powerful accelerators on Earth, like the Large Hadron Collider at CERN," added Comisso.

Amazing astronomy: How neutron stars create ripples in space-time

Interestingly, the simulations showed that the particles gathered most of their energy through the process of random bouncing at super-high speeds.

"This is indeed the radiation emitted around black holes and neutron stars that make them shine, a phenomenon we can observe on Earth," said Sironi, the study's principal investigator and an assistant professor of astronomy at Columbia.

Next, the scientists plan to confirm their findings by comparing them to the electromagnetic spectrum from the Crab Nebula, a bright remnant of a supernova.

You can check out the study published in the December issue of The Astrophysical Journal.

A massive super-computer simulation demonstrates the strong particle density fluctuations that happen in the extreme turbulent environments home to black holes and neutron stars. The dark blue regions are low particle density regions, and the yellow regions are over-dense regions. Particles are accelerated to extremely high speeds from interacting with turbulence fluctuations.

Credit: Luca Comisso and Lorenzo Sironi

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Neom, Saudi Arabia's $500 billion megacity, reaches its next phase

Construction of the $500 billion dollar tech city-state of the future is moving ahead.

Credit: Neom
Technology & Innovation
  • The futuristic megacity Neom is being built in Saudi Arabia.
  • The city will be fully automated, leading in health, education and quality of life.
  • It will feature an artificial moon, cloud seeding, robotic gladiators and flying taxis.
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Study details the negative environmental impact of online shopping

Frequent shopping for single items adds to our carbon footprint.

A truck pulls out of a large Walmart regional distribution center on June 6, 2019 in Washington, Utah.

Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
Politics & Current Affairs
  • A new study shows e-commerce sites like Amazon leave larger greenhouse gas footprints than retail stores.
  • Ordering online from retail stores has an even smaller footprint than going to the store yourself.
  • Greening efforts by major e-commerce sites won't curb wasteful consumer habits. Consolidating online orders can make a difference.
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Childhood sleeping problems may signal mental disorders later in life

Chronic irregular sleep in children was associated with psychotic experiences in adolescence, according to a recent study out of the University of Birmingham's School of Psychology.

A girl and her mother take an afternoon nap in bed.

Personal Growth
  • We spend 40 percent of our childhoods asleep, a time for cognitive growth and development.
  • A recent study found an association between irregular sleep patterns in childhood and either psychotic experiences or borderline personality disorder during teenage years.
  • The researchers hope their findings can help identify at-risk youth to improve early intervention.
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