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The formation of binary neutron stars


Gerry Brown speculates on the formation of binary neutron stars
Hans Bethe Scientist
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You can observe hundreds of pulsars which are neutron stars, it is very difficult to observe the mass of the neutron star because you need a binary for that purpose. So Gerry Brown speculated about the way a binary of neutron stars could be made. And he found out that this is indeed very difficult because if you make a neutron star in the neighborhood of a... another big star, then this other big star would have a.. the halo which goes very far out, which contains matter and this matter would accrete to the neutron star and would bring it over the limit, make it a black hole and make it disappear. And the... well, he used work by van der Heel [sic] of Holland who had studied this matter in great detail and Gerry Brown concluded after long study that there was really only one way to... to make a binary of neutron stars, and that is you first have to have a binary of stars of approximately equal mass. Then in the course of time these stars would each evolve into a white dwarf and you would get then white dwarfs of approximately equal mass, and that's only possible that... that's only possible if the two stars have very nearly the same mass from the beginning.

The late German-American physicist Hans Bethe once described himself as the H-bomb's midwife. He left Nazi Germany in 1933, after which he helped develop the first atomic bomb, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1967 for his contribution to the theory of nuclear reactions, advocated tighter controls over nuclear weapons and campaigned vigorously for the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

Listeners: Sam Schweber

Silvan Sam Schweber is the Koret Professor of the History of Ideas and Professor of Physics at Brandeis University, and a Faculty Associate in the Department of the History of Science at Harvard University. He is the author of a history of the development of quantum electro mechanics, "QED and the men who made it", and has recently completed a biography of Hans Bethe and the history of nuclear weapons development, "In the Shadow of the Bomb: Oppenheimer, Bethe, and the Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" (Princeton University Press, 2000).

Tags: Gerald Brown, EPJ van den Heuvel

Duration: 2 minutes, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: December 1996

Date story went live: 24 January 2008