Just a little late for the Day of the Dead, news from the beyond is good for the deceased. Simulations run by researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California have shown that a mid-sized black hole might be just the right size to reignite zombie (dead) stars that have burned through all of their nuclear fuel…and then obliterate them.  

So far, scientists have found black holes that are crazy massive (billions of times the mass of our sun) or relatively small, (less than 100 times the mass of our sun). According to space.com, these invisible ‘objects’ with such incredible gravity that they suck everything, including light, into them have not yet been found in a mid-range size. But that doesn’t mean they’re not out there.  

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Researchers at LLNL had a theory that a mid-sized black hole may be able to provide enough gravitational force to light up a dead white dwarf star (about the size of our sun). They used a supercomputer to run simulations of close encounters between mid-sized black holes and white dwarf zombie stars. Every time they got near each other, the white dwarf reignited. “The gravitational force from the black hole would cause the stellar material to fuse into varying amounts of calcium and iron, producing more fusion and iron as the star got closer to the black hole. This so-called nucleosynthesis process would reignite the once-dead star.”

Supercomputer simulations show what it would look like if a zombie star whirled around a black hole and reignited. The top images show density and the bottom show temperature. Credit: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Are you amazed? Me too. But, wait. There’s more. The star wouldn’t live forever. It would be revived only to be torn apart later by its resurrector. The forces that reignite the star are the self-same forces that stretch the star to the point of destruction. There’s always a price to pay for cheating death.

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The really good news is that the electromagnetic waves created by the re-ignition of the star could be picked up from near-Earth orbiters in those simulations. That means that we might be able to see where the event happened. Physicist Peter Anninos said, “If the stars align, so to speak, a zombie star could serve as a homing beacon for a never-before-detected class of black holes.” Killer. 

 

 

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Jenny Flack

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