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3D computer simulation sheds new light on colliding stars

Press Trust of India  |  Toronto 

Scientists have created a 3D computer depicting in unprecedented detail the aftermath of a collision between two stars.

The study, published in the journal Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, provides a better understanding of how some of the universe's fundamental elements form in cosmic collisions.

"The collision creates heavy elements including gold and lead," said from the University of in Canada.

Fernandez worked with an international research team using supercomputers at the and data from a collision scientists detected in August of 2017 -- the first such collision ever observed.

"We also saw for the first time a gamma-ray burst from two stars colliding. There's a large amount of science coming out of that discovery," he added, including helping researchers calculate the mass of the stars and even confirm how fast the is expanding.

Neutron stars are the smallest and densest stars, packing more mass than Earth's sun into an area the size of a city.

When two of them collide, they merge in a of light and debris known as a kilonova, as material explodes outward.

Until now, computer simulations of the collisions haven't been sophisticated enough to account for where all that material ends up.

For example, the new 3D shows that the accretion disk -- the collection of leftover debris that orbits the combined star -- ejects twice the amount of material and at higher speeds compared with previous 2D models.

"While our results do not fully reconcile all discrepancies, they bring the numbers closer together," Fernandez said, adding that his provides a better understanding of how heavy elements are created and ejected into space.

By modelling the aftermath of the collision in such detail, Fernandez and the team were also able to account for another way is ejected from the collision: on an astrophysical jet, a narrow plume of particles and shot out at nearly the speed of light as the stars collide.

The jet is also thought to be the source of the gamma-ray burst.

"It was expected that we could find jets, but this is the first time we've been able to model this in enough detail to see this effect emerge," said Fernandez.

Modelling the event in 3D was no easy task, he added. Although a collision happens in just milliseconds, the accretion disk can last for seconds.

Its formation also involves complex and many physical processes all happening at once, making it far harder for computers to simulate.

"Among the processes at work, the main culprit is actually the magnetic field acting on the matter," noted Fernandez.

"We know the equations that describe that process, but the only way that we can properly describe them is in 3D. So, not only do you have to run the for a long time, you also have to model it in three dimensions, which is computationally very expensive.

"The simulation's technical aspects are impressive from a scientific standpoint because the interactions are so complex," he said.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, January 09 2019. 14:10 IST