Friday, April 26, 2013

Relativistic Speeds Unlikely. Again.

Warping space, a la Star Trek, or jumping into hyperspace (Star Wars, and many other SciFi stories) remains an elusive proposition. Einstein was just too smart for us -- as research on super dense collapsed stars shows.

An international research team recently used a collection of large radio and optical telescopes to investigate a pulsar and its white dwarf companion. The observations revealed a binary stellar system with unusual properties: a pulsar that weighs twice as much as our star (Sol, the sun), making it the most massive neutron star measure to date. This, in combination with its short orbital period of only 2.5 hours, and serves as a laboratory of sorts for the theory of general relativity in extreme conditions.

Research findings are also important for scientists who search for gravitational waves. On Earth, they are using large detectors, like the laser interferometers GEO600, LIGO and VIRGO. One of the key signals they are looking for in their data are the gravitational waves emitted by two neutron stars during those last few minutes when they quickly spiral towards each other and finally collide. Decades of mathematical research in general relativity were necessary to calculate the expected gravitational waves from such a collision.

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