Columbia to Join New Research Collaboration on Black Holes and Neutron Stars

The project will use theory, simulations, and observations to explore extreme astrophysical environments.

August 30, 2023

Yuri Levin, a professor of physics, and Lorenzo Sironi, a professor of astronomy, will serve as investigators for a new research group focused on deepening scientific understanding of extreme astrophysical environments. The collaboration will study black holes and neutron stars, which feature the strongest electromagnetic fields, the deepest gravitational potential, the highest densities, and the fastest outflows of matter and energy of any objects in the known Universe. Many recent astronomical discoveries about black holes and neutron stars are of great interest for physicists because these objects’ extreme environments test the limits of how physics works.

Professor Levin, a lead investigator, will focus on magnetars, dense neutron stars with extremely strong magnetic fields that display an extraordinary amount of activity. Professor Sironi, a co-investigator, will focus on black holes that emit pencil-like outflows of energy and matter at speeds that approach the speed of light. More than a dozen universities are involved in the collaboration; Columbia and the University of Wisconsin–Madison are the only universities with two investigators. 

This image is an illustration of the rapid release of magnetic field energy by a process called 'magnetic reconnection,' which happens in environments with very strong magnetic fields, like those around black holes and neutron stars.

In addition to its research goals, the collaboration aims to educate and foster a new and diverse generation of researchers with translatable skills and experience, to connect with scientists working in related fields, and to provide extensive public outreach. It will officially launch on September 1.

The Collaboration, Simons Collaboration on Extreme Electrodynamics of Compact Sources, is directed by Roger Blandford of Stanford University, and supported by the Simons Foundation.