The merger of close binary systems containing two neutron stars should produce a burst of gravitational waves, as predicted by the theory of general relativity. 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 low3-7, 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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