X-ray Aftermath of a Kilonova

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Produced by the Space Telescope Science Institute’s Office of Public Outreach in collaboration with NASA’s Universe of Learning partners: Caltech/IPAC, Center for Astrophysics | Harvard & Smithsonian, and NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Video imagery:

  • Animation of neutron star merger GW 170817: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center/CI Lab
  • Illustration of the aftermath of neutron star merger GW 170817, as observed in X-rays: NASA/CXC/M.Weiss

Writer: Leah Ramsay
Designer: Leah Hustak
Science review: Dr. Frank Summers
Education review: Jim Manning
Music from Music for Non-Profits 

Colorful nebulas, gas giants, galaxies, and stars in outer space.
Two bright white spheres rapidly orbit each other. They each trail a spray of whitish blue material.
Text, On August 17, 2017, gravitational waves--ripples in the fabric of spacetime--were detected, caused by the merger of two neutron stars.
The two spheres orbit each other faster and faster and closer and closer until they merge into one. They emit massive shockwaves in ripples on one plane and shoot spurts of orange and pink gas and material at 90 degrees to the shockwave in both directions. The spurts become orange cones of gas with purple shells under them that expand as the central neutron's surface bubbles and expands.
Text, NASA's Chandra X-ray Observatory has been collecting data on the merger ever since. Chandra data shows that X-rays stopped fading in 2020 and maintained brightness.
The bright neutron glows at the center of a large orange and red egg-shaped shell labeled SHOCK.
Text, Two theories could explain this: 1) Debris from the merger has generated a shock, like a sonic boom, shown here in orange and red. 2) Or, the X-rays come from material falling towards the black hole that was formed by the merged neutron stars.
A disc of material surrounds the white center of the neutron. It is labeled MATERIAL AROUND BLACK HOLE.
Text, To test the theories, astronomers will continue monitoring the site in X-rays and radio waves.
This news was brought to you in part by the CHANDRA X-RAY CENTER IN CAMBRIDGE, M.A.