Feeds

Speedy cannibal pulsar caught in the act

One companion star, to go

Boost IT visibility and business value

European and US space agency astronomers have spotted a particularly fast-spinning pulsar that is in the process of gobbling up its companion star.

The sighting is further supporting evidence for the hypothesis that binary pulsars evolve into isolated, fast-spinning pulsars, and actually increase their spin rate by chowing down on a nearby star. This is the first system in which the pulsar has been caught in the act of speeding itself up.

"We're getting to the point where we can look at any fast-spinning, isolated pulsar and say, 'That guy used to have a companion'," said Dr Maurizio Falanga, who led the Integral observations, at the Commissariat à l'Energie Atomique (CEA) in Saclay, France.

The researchers describe it as 'an evolutionary step' between a stately life as a binary pulsar, spinning around once or twice a second and the fast lane of being an 'X-ray millisecond pulsar'. These rotate several hundred times a second, and this particular pulsar, with a period of 1.67 milliseconds, is one of the fastest known.

The pulsar was identified by the European Space Agency's (ESA) Integral space observatory, and NASA's Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer spacecraft. It was picked up by Integral during a routine scan of the outer edges of the Milky Way. The following day, NASA observers used Rossi to work out just how fast the object was spinning.

Rossi also revealed that most of the pulsar's companion has already been swallowed - the star could now be as small as 40 Jupiter masses. The two bodies orbit each other so tightly, once every two-and-a-half hours, that both could fit neatly inside the radius of our sun.

A pulsar is a rotating neutron star, a remnant of the explosive death throes of a star at least eight times as massive as our own sun. In general, a pulsar is about the same mass as our sun, but is a mere 20km or so across. When they are born, they tend to spin very rapidly, courtesy of conservation of angular momentum, but they slow down over the course of a hundred thousand years or so.

Isolated pulsars may be condemned to a sluggish future, but those living in binary systems can halt their decline by devouring a neighbour. As the gas is torn from the companion, the pulsar spin-rate increases. As the gas from the companion crashes into the neutron star, it releases huge amounts of energy in the form of X-ray and gamma radiation.

"This object was about ten times more energetic than what is usually observed for similar sources," said Falanga. He added that "only some kind of monster emits at these energies", which correspond to a temperature of almost a billion degrees. ®

Gartner critical capabilities for enterprise endpoint backup

More from The Register

next story
LOHAN packs bags for SPACEPORT AMERICA!
Spanish launch goes titsup, we're off to the US of A
Gigantic toothless 'DRAGONS' dominated Earth's early skies
Gummy pterosaurs outlived toothy competitors
'Leccy racer whacks petrols in Oz race
ELMOFO rakes in two wins in sanctioned race
Boffins ID freakish spine-smothered prehistoric critter: The CLAW gave it away
Bizarre-looking creature actually related to velvet worms
CRR-CRRRK, beep, beep: Mars space truck backs out of slippery sand trap
Curiosity finds new drilling target after course correction
Astronomers scramble for obs on new comet
Amateur gets fifth confirmed discovery
Boffins build CYBORG-MOTHRA but not for evil: For search & rescue
This tiny bio-bot will chew through your clothes then save your life
Vulture 2 takes a battering in 100km/h test run
Still in one piece, but we're going to need MORE POWER
What does a flashmob of 1,024 robots look like? Just like this
Sorry, Harvard, did you say kilobots or KILLER BOTS?
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
7 Elements of Radically Simple OS Migration
Avoid the typical headaches of OS migration during your next project by learning about 7 elements of radically simple OS migration.
BYOD's dark side: Data protection
An endpoint data protection solution that adds value to the user and the organization so it can protect itself from data loss as well as leverage corporate data.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?