Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

White Dwarf Pulses Like a Pulsar

07.01.2008
New observations from Suzaku, a joint Japanese Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) and NASA X-ray observatory, have challenged scientists’ conventional understanding of white dwarfs. Observers had believed white dwarfs were inert stellar corpses that slowly cool and fade away, but the new data tell a completely different story.

At least one white dwarf, known as AE Aquarii, emits pulses of high-energy (hard) X-rays as it whirls around on its axis. "We’re seeing behavior like the pulsar in the Crab Nebula, but we’re seeing it in a white dwarf," says Koji Mukai of NASA Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. The Crab Nebula is the shattered remnant of a massive star that ended its life in a supernova explosion. "This is the first time such pulsar-like behavior has ever been observed in a white dwarf." Mukai is co-author of a paper presented at a Suzaku science conference in San Diego, Calif., in December.

White dwarfs and pulsars represent distinct classes of compact objects that are born in the wake of stellar death. A white dwarf forms when a star similar in mass to our sun runs out of nuclear fuel. As the outer layers puff off into space, the core gravitationally contracts into a sphere about the size of Earth, but with roughly the mass of our sun. The white dwarf starts off scorching hot from the star’s residual heat. But with nothing to sustain nuclear reactions, it slowly cools over billions of years, eventually fading to near invisibility as a black dwarf.

A pulsar is a type of neutron star, a collapsed core of an extremely massive star that exploded in a supernova. Whereas white dwarfs have incredibly high densities by earthly standards, neutron stars are even denser, cramming roughly 1.3 solar masses into a city-sized sphere. Pulsars give off radio and X-ray pulsations in lighthouse-like beams.

The discovery team, led by Yukikatsu Terada of Saitama University in Japan, was not expecting to find a white dwarf mimicking a pulsar. Instead, the astronomers were hoping to find out if white dwarfs could accelerate charged subatomic particles to near-light speed, meaning they could be responsible for many of the cosmic rays that zip through our galaxy and occasionally strike Earth.

Some white dwarfs, including AE Aquarii, spin very rapidly and have magnetic fields millions of times stronger than Earth’s. These characteristics give them the energy to generate cosmic rays.

To find out if this is happening, Terada and his colleagues targeted AE Aquarii with Suzaku in October 2005 and October 2006. The white dwarf resides in a binary system with a normal companion star. Gas from the star spirals toward the white dwarf and heats up, giving off a glow of low-energy (soft) X-rays. But Suzaku also detected sharp pulses of hard X-rays. After analyzing the data, the team realized that the hard X-ray pulses match the white dwarf’s spin period of once every 33 seconds.

The hard X-ray pulsations are very similar to those of the pulsar in the center of the Crab Nebula. In both objects, the pulses appear to be radiated like a lighthouse beam, and a rotating magnetic field is thought to be controlling the beam. Astronomers think that the extremely powerful magnetic fields are trapping charged particles and then flinging them outward at near-light speed. When the particles interact with the magnetic field, they radiate X-rays.

"AE Aquarii seems to be a white dwarf equivalent of a pulsar," says Terada. "Since pulsars are known to be sources of cosmic rays, this means that white dwarfs should be quiet but numerous particle accelerators, contributing many of the low-energy cosmic rays in our galaxy."

Launched in 2005, Suzaku is the fifth in a series of Japanese satellites devoted to studying celestial X-ray sources. Managed by JAXA, this mission is a collaborative effort between Japanese universities and institutions and Goddard.

Robert Naeye | EurekAlert!
Further information:
http://www.nasa.gov

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers
24.01.2017 | Institut national de la recherche scientifique - INRS

nachricht European XFEL prepares for user operation: Researchers can hand in first proposals for experiments
24.01.2017 | European XFEL GmbH

All articles from Physics and Astronomy >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Scientists spin artificial silk from whey protein

X-ray study throws light on key process for production

A Swedish-German team of researchers has cleared up a key process for the artificial production of silk. With the help of the intense X-rays from DESY's...

Im Focus: Quantum optical sensor for the first time tested in space – with a laser system from Berlin

For the first time ever, a cloud of ultra-cold atoms has been successfully created in space on board of a sounding rocket. The MAIUS mission demonstrates that quantum optical sensors can be operated even in harsh environments like space – a prerequi-site for finding answers to the most challenging questions of fundamental physics and an important innovation driver for everyday applications.

According to Albert Einstein's Equivalence Principle, all bodies are accelerated at the same rate by the Earth's gravity, regardless of their properties. This...

Im Focus: Traffic jam in empty space

New success for Konstanz physicists in studying the quantum vacuum

An important step towards a completely new experimental access to quantum physics has been made at University of Konstanz. The team of scientists headed by...

Im Focus: How gut bacteria can make us ill

HZI researchers decipher infection mechanisms of Yersinia and immune responses of the host

Yersiniae cause severe intestinal infections. Studies using Yersinia pseudotuberculosis as a model organism aim to elucidate the infection mechanisms of these...

Im Focus: Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously

Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.

While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

Sustainable Water use in Agriculture in Eastern Europe and Central Asia

19.01.2017 | Event News

12V, 48V, high-voltage – trends in E/E automotive architecture

10.01.2017 | Event News

2nd Conference on Non-Textual Information on 10 and 11 May 2017 in Hannover

09.01.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Breaking the optical bandwidth record of stable pulsed lasers

24.01.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Choreographing the microRNA-target dance

24.01.2017 | Life Sciences

Spanish scientists create a 3-D bioprinter to print human skin

24.01.2017 | Health and Medicine

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>