What is a Kilonova?

Hi there! Welcome to Current Events Coordinator, with your host, Kowl. Here, I talk about something that’s current, and maybe that’s an event (duh). This probably will be the only one of my entries on Current Events Coordinator, so for a while I’ll be gone from this website!

Hmmmmmmm…. I’m trying to think of a good current event to talk about. Scrolling down the page, I see a lot of interesting reports. I think I’ll add something… different. Okay! I know what I want to talk about! First, I’ll flash a big cool picture to get everyone’s attention…

Source; https://twitter.com/ligo/status/920456308641366017

And then we’ll get started!

On October 16, 2017, astronomers released a huge announcement; the first kilonova had been found! I’m pretty sure you have no idea what that is, so let me fill you in; first, you need to know about a neutron star. These powerful corpses come from after a supermassive star goes supernova. I’m not going to go into the complex (lack of) nuclear fusion that causes a sun to do this, but all you need to know is that neutron stars are immensely dense; a sugar-cube-sized piece of neutronium (degenerate matter) (neutron star stuff) weighs as much as mount Everest! They spin very fast, have super-strong magnetic poles, and are basically super awesome spinning balls of energetic death. Anyway, sometimes two neutrons stars come together―either by drifting together or by coming from two already-orbiting stars―and form binary systems; two stars orbiting each other. They can circle for thousands of years, spinning faster and faster as they get slightly closer and closer. Eventually, the merge, generating an amazing explosion, known as a kilonova.

A kilonova is bigger than other types of novae; and (theoretically) more important (we’ll get into that in a minute… a metaphorical minute). You see, the power and energy of two enormously dense objects such as neutron stars colliding does some pretty amazing things. First, it generates beams called “Gamma-Ray Bursts” (GRBs), which are powerful beams of photons that are ranked smallest and most dangerous on the light scale. These usually don’t hit earth, which is very fortunate because if they did, we’d be poisoned through it’s powerful radiation energy, and it would mess up our DNA.

Okay, it’s been a minute (metaphorically). You see, astronomers and scientists have reason to believe that kilonova are the route of materials. In stars, nuclear fusion occurs (which I said I won’t get too much into), and makes a bunch of materials from lighter materials; helium, carbon, oxygen, magnesium, silicon, and iron, which is where it stops. So where do all the other heavier elements come from?… you know, platinum, gold, silver, uranium… do they just appear? Nope, they come from… you guessed it… a monkey riding a telephone booth through a nuclear hamper basket. Bet you hadn’t guessed that! No… they come from kilonovae. I just wanted to spice things up. Therefore, we theorize that all of the gold and silver and platinum and heavy precious metals on earth originated from kilonova explosions… think about that next time you see your mom’s gold rings!

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bBCArmUPgCw

Anyway, kilonovae were just theoretical (just like neutron stars were), but on October 16th they were proven (just like neutron stars were, way before that). Scientists detected gravitational waves, and saw a blast of light out in space… the only other thing that has the power to rattle space-time and generate gravitational waves through space is two black holes colliding, and while scientists can detect the gravitational waves, any light or materials made by the collision is sucked up instantly by the singularities (singularities are what black holes are; there are at the center of black holes, and the only reason that black holes look like black holes and not singularities is because singularities have such a high escape velocity that light can’t escape from a certain radius from the center, therefore it can’t reach your eyes to show you what’s there. So a black hole is literally just a singularity). However, in a kilonova, neutron stars don’t have an escape velocity higher than the speed of light, so we can view them and gather information about these elusive explosions.

Finally, there’s one more thing that’s cool about this kilonova sighting. First, you need to know this; light travels at a set speed. It is an extremely fast speed, but an unchangeable speed nonetheless. That’s why a “lightyear” is a measurement; it’s a distance of space that would take a photon going the speed of light an Earth YEAR to get across; yeah, space is big. Anyway, this kilonova explosion happened hundreds of thousand of years ago, way off some thousand lightyears away. As the photons were created by the binding of these two neutron stars, they began their course across that entire distances, traveling for the past hundreds of years, until finally that day when they reached Earth. Of course, the photons hadn’t changed as they made their course; so when they reach our eyes or our telescopes for our brains or computers to process, we’re actually looking at something that happened before the tyrannosaurus rex roamed the earth!

Alright, that’ll be the end of this Current Events Coordinator! This is getting real long, and we all know that if you’re scrolling down the website and you see a gigantic entry, you don’t want to read it! Anyway, if you enjoyed, please leave a comment, and now, we’ll get onto the riddles.

My last role’s leaving riddle was this: “What is it that everyone is always doing at the same time?”

The answer? Post your guesses in the comments first… alright, here it is… growing older!

Today’s riddle: “who works when he plays and plays when he works?”

Stay sharp for Kowl entries in the future for answers


Published 1/ 12 / 2017 (that’s December 1st)                       Sincerely, Reporter Kowl

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