Astronomers Observe A Pulsar In An Unprecedented Detail

Posted: May 26 2018, 2:43pm CDT | by , Updated: May 26 2018, 3:54pm CDT , in Latest Science News


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Astronomers Observe a Pulsar in an Unprecedented Detail
Credit: Dr. Mark A. Garlick; Dunlap Institute for Astronomy & Astrophysics, University of Toronto

The observations of a star 6500 light-years away is highest resolution observations in astronomical history

Astronomers have observed a pulsar in greater detail than ever before. The pulsar is a neutron star that rotates over 600 times per second and emits beams of radiation from two hotspots. As the pulsar spins, radiation from hotspots flashes across the sky, just like the light from a lighthouse. This intense radiation can be detected using ground-based instruments.

The pulsar is officially called PSR B1957+20 but is known informally as the black widow. It lies 6500 light-years away from Earth and has a companion star, a brown dwarf. They form a binary pair in which two stars revolve around each other. The brown dwarf is a cool, lightweight star and is about a third the diameter of the Sun. The pulsar is much heavier, exotic stars that contain more mass than the sun. Just as a black widow spider eats its mate, it appears that the pulsar could gradually erode gas from the dwarf star and eventually consume it.

Besides radiation beams, pulsars also produce a surrounding cloud of ionized and magnetized gas called plasma which could be used as ‘interstellar lenses’ to zoom in on the source of the emission. The plasma allowed researchers to perform one of the highest resolution observations in astronomical history. The observation is equivalent to seeing a flea on the surface of Pluto with the help of a telescope.

"The gas is acting as like a magnifying glass right in front of the pulsar," said lead researcher Robert Main. “We are essentially looking at the pulsar through a naturally occurring magnifier which periodically allows us to see the two regions separately."

The edges of the plasma boost the observed brightness of the pulsar for short periods. With plasma-lensing effect, researchers can study the changes in brightness at different times. Since the ionized gas close to a pulsar can greatly amplify the object’s observed brightness, these high-resolution observations could also provide clues about the nature of mysterious phenomena known as Fast Radio Bursts, or FRBs.

"Many observed properties of FRBs could be explained if they are being amplified by plasma lenses," said Main. "The properties of the amplified pulses we detected in our study show a remarkable similarity to the bursts from the repeating FRB, suggesting that the repeating FRB may be lensed by plasma in its host galaxy."

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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