Letter | Published:

An increased estimate of the merger rate of double neutron stars from observations of a highly relativistic system

Nature volume 426, pages 531533 (04 December 2003) | Download Citation

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Abstract

The merger1 of close binary systems containing two neutron stars should produce a burst of gravitational waves, as predicted by the theory of general relativity2. A reliable estimate of the double-neutron-star merger rate in the Galaxy is crucial in order to predict whether current gravity wave detectors will be successful in detecting such bursts. Present estimates of this rate are rather low3,4,5,6,7, because we know of only a few double-neutron-star binaries with merger times less than the age of the Universe. Here we report the discovery of a 22-ms pulsar, PSR J0737–3039, which is a member of a highly relativistic double-neutron-star binary with an orbital period of 2.4 hours. This system will merge in about 85 Myr, a time much shorter than for any other known neutron-star binary. Together with the relatively low radio luminosity of PSR J0737–3039, this timescale implies an order-of-magnitude increase in the predicted merger rate for double-neutron-star systems in our Galaxy (and in the rest of the Universe).

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Acknowledgements

We thank J. Reynolds of the Parkes Observatory, and B. Sault of the ATCA, for prompt allocations of observing time. The Parkes Observatory and the ATCA are part of the Australia Telescope, which is funded by the Commonwealth of Australia for operation as a National Facility managed by CSIRO. M.B., N. D'A. and A.P. acknowledge financial support from the Italian Ministry of University and Research (MIUR) under the national programme ‘Cofin 2001’. V.K. acknowledges partial support by a David and Lucile Packard Science and Engineering Fellowship and a NSF Gravitational Physics grant. D.R.L. is a University Research fellow funded by the Royal Society.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Università degli Studi di Bologna, Dipartimento di Astronomia, via Ranzani 1, 40127, Bologna, Italy

    • M. Burgay
  2. Università degli Studi di Cagliari, Dipartimento di Fisica, SP Monserrato-Sestu km 0.7, 09042 Monserrato, Italy

    • N. D'Amico
  3. INAF—Osservatorio Astronomico di Cagliari, Loc. Poggio dei Pini, Strada 54, 09012 Capoterra, Italy

    • N. D'Amico
    •  & A. Possenti
  4. INAF—Osservatorio Astronomico di Bologna, via Ranzani 1, 40127, Bologna, Italy

    • A. Possenti
  5. Australia Telescope National Facility, CSIRO, PO Box 76, Epping, New South Wales 2121, Australia

    • R. N. Manchester
    •  & J. M. Sarkissian
  6. University of Manchester, Jodrell Bank Observatory, Macclesfield, Cheshire, SK11 9DL, UK

    • A. G. Lyne
    • , B. C. Joshi
    • , M. A. McLaughlin
    • , M. Kramer
    •  & D. R. Lorimer
  7. National Center for Radio Astrophysics, PO Bag 3, Ganeshkhind, Pune 411007, India

    • B. C. Joshi
  8. Columbia Astrophysics Laboratory, Columbia University, 550 West 120th Street, New York, New York 10027, USA

    • F. Camilo
  9. Northwestern University, Department of Physics and Astronomy, Evanston, Illinois 60208, USA

    • V. Kalogera
    •  & C. Kim

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The authors declare that they have no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to N. D'Amico.

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https://doi.org/10.1038/nature02124

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