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July 18, 2013

Origin of gold found in rare neutron-star collisions

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Most of these cosmic fruitcakes are solitary wanderers, but some are paired up, as remnants of binary stars. They will orbit a common point in space and gradually drift closer and closer, spiraling toward one another in obedience to Einstein's laws of general relativity. One day, they will collide.

In the Milky Way galaxy, with hundreds of billions of stars, such a neutron-star collision is likely to happen about once every 100,000 years, Berger said.

Astronomers are fortunate in that the universe is so vast, containing many billions of galaxies, that any all-sky survey might possibly see something even as rare as a neutron-star collision. So it was that on June 3, NASA's Swift space telescope observed a flash of light, called a short gamma-ray burst (GRB), in an extremely distant galaxy in the constellation Leo.

Astronomers scrambled to reobserve that tiny patch of space with a powerful telescope in Chile and with the Hubble Space Telescope.

They saw something glowing where they'd earlier seen the GRB. After comparing their observations with theoretical models, the astronomers concluded that they were seeing the radioactive afterglow from a huge quantity of heavy metals formed by a neutron-star smashup.

This observation potentially explains this type of short-duration GRB. These flashes of light can briefly outshine an entire galaxy. The June event, in a galaxy 3.9 billion light-years away, lasted only two-tenths of a second.

Although neutron-star collisions had been proposed as a source of such GRBs, now there is a direct observation.

"When they make contact, several exciting things happen very quickly," Berger said. "Most of the material actually collapses to form a black hole. Some of the material then gets sucked into the black hole. That is the event that causes the gamma-ray burst. Some of the material gets spewed out into space. That material, since it came from neutron stars, is very rich in neutrons, and as a result, is very efficient at forming these heavy elements, including gold."

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New England News
Obituaries
  • Alan J. Walker, 68

    Kingston, N.H. — Mr. Alan James Walker, 68, passed away peacefully at his home on July 8, 2014, after a long, brave battle with cancer.

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    2 days
  • James Reese

    Raymond, NH — James Edwin Reese, 74, passed away on Wednesday, July 16, 2014, surrounded by his family and friends at his home in Raymond, N.H. He was the son of John and Ruth Reese, born on Oct. 29, 1939 in Edensburg, Pa. James graduated from Central Cambria High School in Pennsylvania before proudly serving in the U.S. Army as a food inspector. His military service was followed by 31 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a meat inspector. Mr. Reese was an avid outdoorsman and spent much of his time fishing, camping and hiking in the White Mountains. He became involved in the Boy Scouts and enjoyed passing on his vast knowledge of the wilderness to others. Throughout his retirement years he enjoyed woodworking, raising rabbits and working in his garden.

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  • Velma J. Reid

    South Hampton, NH — Velma J. Reid, 80, died peacefully on July 17, 2014 at Exeter Hospital, surrounded by family. She was born in Haverhill, Mass. on June 8, 1934, the daughter of the late George C.W. and Alta I. (Kimball) Haynes. A graduate of Haverhill High School, Velma worked at Western Electric until she had children. For years, she was a devoted “stay-at-home” mom who raised her three children in a loving, nurturing environment. She later worked various manufacturing jobs until her retirement. After retiring, she volunteered her time at various organizations and was very involved at the East Kingston Community United Methodist Church as a member of the women’s guild, assisting with the holiday fair, and helping out wherever she could. She had a passion for animals, and would donate money, food, and blankets to the NH SPCA. She loved to sew and made a personalized quilt for every member of her family. She was also a member of the “Ugly Quilts” group, which made blankets and sleeping bags for the homeless using recycled fabric. She is survived by her husband, Clyde Reid of South Hampton, N.H.; daughter, Pam Eaton of Danville, N.H.; son and daughter-in-law, Douglas and Kim Reid of Raymond, N.H.; daughter, Shirley Reid of South Hampton, N.H.; two sisters, Gwen Stuart of Haverhill, and Norma Taplin of Dracut; four grandchildren, Cheryl and Marc Welch, and Kristen and Joshua Reid, and several nieces and nephews.

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  • Carleen A. Knowlton, 80

    Danville, NH — Carleen A. (Rhoadhouse) Knowlton, 80, of Danville and formerly of Hampstead, died on July 7, 2014, at her home.

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    9 days 1 Photo
  • Miriam O. (Graham) Graham, 84

    Kingston, NH — Miriam O. (Graham) Graham, 84, a resident of Kingston since 2001, and former longtime resident of Grafton, Mass., died peacefully, surrounded by her family, on July 11, 2014, following a long illness.

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