In DepthAstrophysics

A weight limit emerges for neutron stars

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Science  16 Feb 2018:
Vol. 359, Issue 6377, pp. 724-725
DOI: 10.1126/science.359.6377.724

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Astrophysicists have long wondered how massive a neutron star—the corpse of certain exploding stars—could be without collapsing under its own gravity to form a black hole. Now, four teams have independently deduced a mass limit for neutron stars of about 2.2 times the mass of the sun. To do so, all four groups analyzed last year's blockbuster observations of the merger of two neutron stars, spied on 17 September 2017 by dozens of observatories. That approach may seem unpromising, as it might appear that the merging neutron stars would have immediately produced a black hole. However, the researchers argue that the merger first produced a spinning, overweight neutron star momentarily propped up by centrifugal force. They deduce that just before it collapsed, the short-lived neutron star had to be near the maximum mass for one spinning as a solid body. That inference allowed them to use a scaling relationship to estimate the maximum mass of a nonrotating, stable neutron star, starting from the total mass of the original pair and the amount of matter spewed into space.