Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Star eats companion

06.09.2005


ESA’s Integral space observatory, together with NASA’s Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer spacecraft, has found a fast-spinning pulsar in the process of devouring its companion.



This finding supports the theory that the fastest-spinning isolated pulsars get that fast by cannibalising a nearby star. Gas ripped from the companion fuels the pulsar’s acceleration. This is the sixth pulsar known in such an arrangement, and it represents a ’stepping stone’ in the evolution of slower-spinning binary pulsars into faster-spinning isolated pulsars.

"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.


’Pulsars’ are rotating neutron stars, which are created in stellar explosions. They are the remnants of stars that were once at least eight times more massive than the Sun. These stars still contain about the mass of our Sun compactified into a sphere of only about 20 kilometres across.

This pulsar, called IGR J00291+5934, belongs to a category of ’X-ray millisecond pulsars’, which pulse with the X-ray light several hundred times a second, one of the fastest known. It has a period of 1.67 milliseconds which is much smaller that most other pulsars that rotate once every few seconds.

Neutron stars are born rapidly spinning in collapses of massive stars. They gradually slow down after a few hundred thousand years. Neutron stars in binary star systems, however, can reverse this trend and speed up with the help from the companion star.

For the first time ever, this speeding-up has been observed in the act. "We now have direct evidence for the star spinning faster whilst cannibalising its companion, something which no one had ever seen before for such a system," said Dr Lucien Kuiper from the Netherlands Institute for Space Research (SRON), in Utrecht.

A neutron star can remove gas from its companion star in a process called ’accretion’. The flow of gas onto the neutron star makes the star spin faster and faster. Both the flow of gas and its crashing upon the neutron star surface releases much energy in the form of X-ray and gamma radiation.

Neutron stars have such a strong gravitational field that light passing by the star changes its direction by almost 100 degrees (in comparison light passing by the Sun is deflected by an angle which is 200 thousands times smaller). "This ’gravitational bending’ allows us to see the back side of the star," points out Prof. Juri Poutanen from the University of Oulu, Finland.

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

From a previous Integral result, scientists deduced that because the neutron star has a strong magnetic field, charged particles from its companion are channeled along the magnetic field lines until they slam into the neutron star surface at one of its magnetic poles, forming ’hot spots’. The very high temperatures seen by Integral arise from this very hot plasma over the accretion spots.

IGR J00291+5934 was discovered by Integral during a routine scan of the sky on 2 December 2004, in the outer reaches of our Milky Way galaxy, when it suddenly flared. On the day after, scientists accurately clocked the neutron star with the Rossi X-ray Timing Explorer.

Rossi observations revealed that the companion is already a fraction the size of our Sun, perhaps as small as 40 Jupiter masses. The binary orbit is 2.5 hours long (as opposed to the year long Earth-Sun orbit). The full system is very tight; both stars are so close that they will fit into the radius of the Sun. These details support the theory that the two stars are close enough for accretion to take place and that the companion star is being cannibalised.

"Accretion is expected to cease after a billion of years or so," said Dr Duncan Galloway of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, responsible for the Rossi observations. "This Integral-Rossi discovery provides more evidence of how pulsars evolve from one phase to another - from an initially slowly spinning binary neutron star emitting high energies, to a rapidly spinning isolated pulsar emitting in radio wavelengths."

The discovery is the first of its kind for Integral (four of the first five rapidly spinning X-ray pulsars were discovered by Rossi). This bodes well in the combined search for these rare objects. Integrals’s sensitive detectors can identify relatively dim and distant sources and so, knowing where to look, Rossi can provide timing information through a dedicated observation extending over the entire two-week period of the typical outburst.

Chris Winkler | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/SPECIALS/Integral/SEMWSAA5QCE_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Space radiation won't stop NASA's human exploration
18.10.2017 | NASA/Johnson Space Center

nachricht Study shows how water could have flowed on 'cold and icy' ancient Mars
18.10.2017 | Brown University

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: Neutron star merger directly observed for the first time

University of Maryland researchers contribute to historic detection of gravitational waves and light created by event

On August 17, 2017, at 12:41:04 UTC, scientists made the first direct observation of a merger between two neutron stars--the dense, collapsed cores that remain...

Im Focus: Breaking: the first light from two neutron stars merging

Seven new papers describe the first-ever detection of light from a gravitational wave source. The event, caused by two neutron stars colliding and merging together, was dubbed GW170817 because it sent ripples through space-time that reached Earth on 2017 August 17. Around the world, hundreds of excited astronomers mobilized quickly and were able to observe the event using numerous telescopes, providing a wealth of new data.

Previous detections of gravitational waves have all involved the merger of two black holes, a feat that won the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics earlier this month....

Im Focus: Smart sensors for efficient processes

Material defects in end products can quickly result in failures in many areas of industry, and have a massive impact on the safe use of their products. This is why, in the field of quality assurance, intelligent, nondestructive sensor systems play a key role. They allow testing components and parts in a rapid and cost-efficient manner without destroying the actual product or changing its surface. Experts from the Fraunhofer IZFP in Saarbrücken will be presenting two exhibits at the Blechexpo in Stuttgart from 7–10 November 2017 that allow fast, reliable, and automated characterization of materials and detection of defects (Hall 5, Booth 5306).

When quality testing uses time-consuming destructive test methods, it can result in enormous costs due to damaging or destroying the products. And given that...

Im Focus: Cold molecules on collision course

Using a new cooling technique MPQ scientists succeed at observing collisions in a dense beam of cold and slow dipolar molecules.

How do chemical reactions proceed at extremely low temperatures? The answer requires the investigation of molecular samples that are cold, dense, and slow at...

Im Focus: Shrinking the proton again!

Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, using high precision laser spectroscopy of atomic hydrogen, confirm the surprisingly small value of the proton radius determined from muonic hydrogen.

It was one of the breakthroughs of the year 2010: Laser spectroscopy of muonic hydrogen resulted in a value for the proton charge radius that was significantly...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

ASEAN Member States discuss the future role of renewable energy

17.10.2017 | Event News

World Health Summit 2017: International experts set the course for the future of Global Health

10.10.2017 | Event News

Climate Engineering Conference 2017 Opens in Berlin

10.10.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Osaka university researchers make the slipperiest surfaces adhesive

18.10.2017 | Materials Sciences

Space radiation won't stop NASA's human exploration

18.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Los Alamos researchers and supercomputers help interpret the latest LIGO findings

18.10.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>