Newswise — The physics behind some of the most extraordinary stellar objects in the Universe just became even more puzzling.
ESA/XMM-Newton/M. Sasaki et al.
The magnetar 1E 2259+586 shines a brilliant blue-white in this false-colour X-ray image of the CTB 109 supernova remnant, which lies about 10,000 light-years away toward the constellation Cassiopeia. CTB 109 is only one of three supernova remnants in our galaxy known to harbour a magnetar. X-rays at low, medium and high energies are respectively shown in red, green, and blue in this image created from observations acquired by the European Space Agency's XMM-Newton satellite in 2002. Credit: ESA/XMM-Newton/M. Sasaki et al.
A group of astronomers led by McGill researchers using NASA's Swift satellite have discovered a new kind of glitch in the cosmos, specifically in the rotation of a neutron star.
Neutron stars are among the densest objects in the observable universe; higher densities are found only in their close cousins, black holes. A typical neutron star packs as much mass as half-a-million Earths within a diameter of only about 20 kilometers. A teaspoonful of neutron star matter would weigh approximately 1 billion tons, roughly the same as 100 skyscrapers made of solid lead.
Neutron stars are known to rotate very rapidly, from a few revolutions per minute to as fast as several hundred times per second. A neutron star glitch is an event in which the star suddenly begins rotating faster. These sudden spin-up glitches have long been thought to demonstrate that these exotic ultra-dense stellar objects contain some form of liquid, likely a superfluid.
This new cosmic glitch was detected in a special kind of neutron star – a magnetar -- an ultra-magnetized neutron star that can exhibit dramatic outbursts of X-rays, sometimes so strong they can affect the Earth's atmosphere from clear across the galaxy. A magnetar’s magnetic field is so strong that, if one were located at the distance of the Moon, it could wipe clean a credit card magnetic strip here on Earth.
Now astronomers led by a research group at McGill University have discovered a new phenomenon: they observed a magnetar suddenly rotate slower -- a cosmic braking act they've dubbed an “anti-glitch.” The result is reported in the May 30 issue of Nature.
The magnetar in question, 1E 2259+586 located roughly 10,000 light years away in the constellation of Cassiopeia, was being monitored by the McGill group using the Swift X-ray telescope in order to study the star's rotation and try to detect the occasional giant X-ray explosions that are often seen from magnetars.
"I looked at the data and was shocked -- the neutron star had suddenly slowed down," says Rob Archibald, lead author and MSc student at McGill University. "These stars are not supposed to behave this way."
Accompanying the sudden slowdown, which rang in at one third of a part per million of the 7-second rotation rate, was a large increase in the X-ray output of the magnetar, telltale evidence of a major event inside or near the surface of the neutron star.
"We've seen huge X-ray explosions from magnetars before," says Victoria Kaspi, Professor of Physics at McGill and leader of the Swift magnetar monitoring program, "but an anti-glitch was quite a surprise. This is telling us something brand new about the insides of these amazing objects." In 2002, NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer satellite also saw a large X-ray outburst from the source, but in that case, it was accompanied by a more usual spin-up glitch.
The internal structure of neutron stars is a long-standing puzzle, as the matter inside these stars is subject to forces so intense that they are presently not re-creatable in terrestrial laboratories. The densities at the hearts of neutron stars are thought to be upwards of 10 times higher than in the atomic nucleus, far beyond what current theories of matter can describe.
The reported anti-glitch strongly suggests previously unrecognized behaviour inside neutron stars, possibly with pockets of superfluid rotating at different speeds. The researchers further point out in the Nature paper that some properties of conventional glitches have been noted to be puzzling and suggestive of flaws in the existing theory to explain them. They are hoping that the discovery of a new phenomenon will open the door to renewed progress in understanding neutron star interiors.
The research was funded in part by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Institute for Advance Research, the Fonds de recherche du Québec - Nature et technologies, the Canada Research Chairs program, the Lorne Trottier Chair in Astrophysics and Cosmology, and the Centre de recherche en Astrophysique du Québec.Chris Chipello
Chris Chipello | Newswise
New quantum liquid crystals may play role in future of computers
21.04.2017 | California Institute of Technology
Light rays from a supernova bent by the curvature of space-time around a galaxy
21.04.2017 | Stockholm University
The nearby, giant radio galaxy M87 hosts a supermassive black hole (BH) and is well-known for its bright jet dominating the spectrum over ten orders of magnitude in frequency. Due to its proximity, jet prominence, and the large black hole mass, M87 is the best laboratory for investigating the formation, acceleration, and collimation of relativistic jets. A research team led by Silke Britzen from the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, has found strong indication for turbulent processes connecting the accretion disk and the jet of that galaxy providing insights into the longstanding problem of the origin of astrophysical jets.
Supermassive black holes form some of the most enigmatic phenomena in astrophysics. Their enormous energy output is supposed to be generated by the...
The probability to find a certain number of photons inside a laser pulse usually corresponds to a classical distribution of independent events, the so-called...
Microprocessors based on atomically thin materials hold the promise of the evolution of traditional processors as well as new applications in the field of flexible electronics. Now, a TU Wien research team led by Thomas Müller has made a breakthrough in this field as part of an ongoing research project.
Two-dimensional materials, or 2D materials for short, are extremely versatile, although – or often more precisely because – they are made up of just one or a...
Two researchers at Heidelberg University have developed a model system that enables a better understanding of the processes in a quantum-physical experiment...
Glaciers might seem rather inhospitable environments. However, they are home to a diverse and vibrant microbial community. It’s becoming increasingly clear that they play a bigger role in the carbon cycle than previously thought.
A new study, now published in the journal Nature Geoscience, shows how microbial communities in melting glaciers contribute to the Earth’s carbon cycle, a...
20.04.2017 | Event News
18.04.2017 | Event News
03.04.2017 | Event News
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
21.04.2017 | Health and Medicine
21.04.2017 | Physics and Astronomy