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Science Friday, July 5th 2013 at 2:15 pm

Mysterious Flashes on Radio Telescopes Might Be Waves From Massive Stars Collapsing Into Black Holes

Sure, that's just what the aliens want you to think.

black hole

Radio telescopes have been picking up some unusual flashes in the sky that appear for just moments without repeating, and scientists haven’t been able to figure out why. This is pretty worrisome, because unusual changes in radio signals from space is basically how every alien invasion movie ever made begins. Don’t start welcoming our future overlords yet, though — according to an article in this week’s issue of Science, these flashes might be the final farewell greetings of a supramassive neutron star collapsing into a black hole. Weirdly, it’s kind of nice to know that even dying stars do not go gently into that good night. Well, that and it’s a huge relief that it’s not invading aliens. I mean, that we know of yet.

Neutron stars are what remains of a star after it’s undergone a supernove explosion, and once they get too massive they are expected to immediately collapse into black holes. However, Heino Falcke from Radboud University Nijmegen and Luciano Rezzolla from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam are now suggeting that some of those star deaths can be postponed by centrifugal force that stabilizes rotating neutron stars and leaves him in a “half-dead” state for millions of years.

While this half-dead rotating star ages, it slows down and becomes more and more compact until it is unable to withstand gravity’s pull and collapses, transmitting an intensely bright radio flash that we’re able to pick up. Rezolla and Falcke calls these “blitzars,” from the German word for flash.

In the Science article, Rezzolla summarizes it this way: “These fast radio bursts could be the first evidence of the birth of a black hole, whose formation is therefore accompanied by an intense, almost pure, radio-wave emission. Interestingly, a blitzar is at the same time the farewell signal of a dying neutron star and the first message of from a newly born black hole.”

The two astrophysicists will have to observe more of these radio bursts to further test their proposal. In the meantime, this needs to be the plot of a Doctor Who thing already. Giant spinning star that emits giant flashes of light when it dies? Come on, that sounds awesome as heck. I can just picture Nine or Ten excitedly freaking out about it now.

(via Science Daily, image via NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center)

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