Intense electromagnetic outbursts from collapsing hypermassive neutron stars

Luis Lehner, Carlos Palenzuela, Steven L. Liebling, Christopher Thompson, Chad Hanna

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

80 Scopus citations


We study the gravitational collapse of a magnetized neutron star using a novel numerical approach able to capture both the dynamics of the star and the behavior of the surrounding plasma. In this approach, a fully general relativistic magnetohydrodynamics implementation models the collapse of the star and provides appropriate boundary conditions to a force-free model which describes the stellar exterior. We validate this strategy by comparing with known results for the rotating monopole and aligned rotator solutions and then apply it to study both rotating and nonrotating stellar collapse scenarios and contrast the behavior with what is obtained when employing the electrovacuum approximation outside the star. The nonrotating electrovacuum collapse is shown to agree qualitatively with a Newtonian model of the electromagnetic field outside a collapsing star. We illustrate and discuss a fundamental difference between the force-free and electrovacuum solutions, involving the appearance of large zones of electric-dominated field in the vacuum case. This provides a clear demonstration of how dissipative singularities appear generically in the nonlinear time evolution of force-free fluids. In both the rotating and nonrotating cases, our simulations indicate that the collapse induces a strong electromagnetic transient, which leaves behind an uncharged, unmagnetized Kerr black hole. In the case of submillisecond rotation, the magnetic field experiences strong winding, and the transient carries much more energy. This result has important implications for models of gamma-ray bursts. Even when the neutron star is surrounded by an accretion torus (as in binary merger and collapsar scenarios), a magnetosphere may emerge through a dynamo process operating in a surface shear layer. When this rapidly rotating magnetar collapses to a black hole, the electromagnetic energy released can compete with the later output in a Blandford-Znajek jet. Much less electromagnetic energy is released by a massive magnetar that is (initially) gravitationally stable: its rotational energy is dissipated mainly by internal torques. A distinct plasmoid structure is seen in our nonrotating simulations, which will generate a radio transient with subluminal expansion and greater synchrotron efficiency than is expected in shock models. Closely related phenomena appear to be at work in the giant flares of Galactic magnetars.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104035
JournalPhysical Review D - Particles, Fields, Gravitation and Cosmology
Issue number10
StatePublished - Nov 15 2012

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Nuclear and High Energy Physics
  • Physics and Astronomy (miscellaneous)


Dive into the research topics of 'Intense electromagnetic outbursts from collapsing hypermassive neutron stars'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this