The new method involves nuclear physics instead of gravity. Scientists are calling it a revolutionary way to determine the mass of pulsars or neutron stars.
Researchers from the University of Southampton have developed a new way to determine the mass of stars called “pulsars.”
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Pulsar is a neutron star which spins rapidly and emits light after a regular interval, like a lighthouse.
Until now, the mass of the stars was measured through motion which was caused by the gravitational pull between the star and other nearby celestial object. The beam of electromagnetic radiation coming from the pulsars can be detected by telescopes because of their fairly consistent rate of rotation.
Professor of Applied Mathematics at Southampton, Nils Andersson explains the previous method in this manner. “Imagine the pulsar as a bowl of soup, with the bowl spinning at one speed and the soup spinning faster. Friction between the inside of the bowl and its contents, the soup, will cause the bowl to speed up. The more soup there is, the faster the bowl will be made to rotate.”
The newly developed technique relies on nuclear physics and is considered a revolutionary step towards making more accurate measurements of star mass.
“For pulsars, we have been able to use principles of nuclear physics, rather than gravity, to work out what their mass is – an exciting breakthrough which has the potential to revolutionist the way we make this kind of calculation.” Dr Wynn Ho, Mathematical Sciences at the University of Southampton and led author of the finding said.
The new method can be applied on weighing stars which are isolated, not have any object nearby or the young pulsars which just display glitches occasionally.
“All previous precise measurements of pulsar masses have been made for stars that orbit another object, using the same techniques that were used to measure the mass of the Earth or Moon, or discover the first extrasolar planets. Our technique is very different and can be used for pulsars in isolation.” Dr Cristobal Espinoza, a collaborator of the Pontificia Universidad Catolica de Chile said in a statement.
Dr Ho and his colleagues developed the new mathematical model by combining radio and X-ray data and it needs detailed understanding of superfluidity to measure star mass. Superfluid is a matter which is found in the crust of the star. The magnitude and frequency of pulsar glitches depend on the amount of superfluid available in the star and its mobility within. By using observational information with nuclear physics, the mass of a star can be determined.
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Researchers, who worked on the project claim, “Our results provide an exciting new link between the study of distant astronomical objects and laboratory work in both high-energy and low-temperature physics. It is a great example of interdisciplinary science.”