Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

‘Deep impact’ of pulsar around companion star

01.03.2006


Astronomers have witnessed a never-seen-before event in observations by ESA’s XMM-Newton spacecraft - a collision between a pulsar and a ring of gas around a neighbouring star.


Pulsar 1259-63 orbits a star (SS 2883) which is bright and visible to amateur astronomers



The rare passage, which took the pulsar plunging into and through this ring, illuminated the sky in gamma- and X-rays. It has revealed a remarkable new insight into the origin and content of ‘pulsar winds’, which has been a long-standing mystery. The scientists described the event as a natural but ‘scaled-up’ version of the well-known Deep Impact satellite collision with Comet Tempel 1.

Their final analysis is based on a new observation from XMM-Newton and a multitude of archived data which will lead to a better understanding of what drives well-known ‘pulsar nebulae’, such as the colourful Crab and Vela pulsars.


"Despite countless observations, the physics of pulsar winds have remained an enigma," said lead author Masha Chernyakova, of the Integral Science Data Centre, Versoix, Switzerland.

"Here we had the rare opportunity to see pulsar wind clashing with stellar wind. It is analogous to smashing something open to see what’s inside."

A pulsar is a fast-spinning core of a collapsed star that was once about 10 to 25 times more massive than our Sun. The dense core contains about a solar mass compacted in a sphere about 20 kilometres across.

The pulsar in this observation, called PSR B1259-63, is a radio pulsar, which means most of the time it emits only radio waves. The binary system lies in the general direction of the Southern Cross about 5000 light-years away.

Pulsar wind comprises material flung away from the pulsar. There is ongoing debate about how energetic the winds are and whether these winds consist of protons or electrons. What Chernyakova’s team has found, although surprising, ties in neatly with other recent observations.

The team observed PSR B1259-63 orbiting a ‘Be’ star named SS 2883, which is bright and visible to amateur astronomers. ‘Be’ stars, so named because of certain spectral characteristics, tend to be a few times more massive than our Sun and rotate at astonishing speeds.

They rotate so fast that their equatorial region bulges and they become flattened spheres. Gas is consistently flung off such a star and settles into an equatorial ring around the star, with an appearance somewhat similar to the planet Saturn and its rings.

The pulsar plunges into the Be star’s ring twice during its 3.4-year elliptical orbit; but the plunges are only a few months apart, just before and after ‘periastron’, the point when the two objects in orbit are closest to each other. It is during the plunges that X-rays and gamma rays are emitted, and XMM-Newton detects the X-rays.

"For most of the 3.4-year orbit, both sources are relatively dim in X-rays and it is not possible to identify characteristics in the pulsar wind," said co-author Andrii Neronov. "As the two objects draw closer together, sparks begin to fly."

The new XMM-Newton data was collected nearly simultaneously with a HESS observation. HESS, the High Energy Stereoscopic System, is a new ground-based gamma-ray telescope in Namibia.

Announced last year, the HESS observation was puzzling in that the gamma-ray emission fell to a minimum at periastron and had two maximums, just before and after the periastron, the opposite of what scientists were expecting.

The XMM-Newton observation supports the HESS observation by showing how the maximums were generated by the double plunging into the Be star’s ring. By combining these two observations with radio observations from the last periastron event, the scientists now have a complete picture of this system.

Tracing the rise and fall of X-rays and gamma rays day after day as the pulsar dug through the Be star’s disk, the scientists could conclude that the wind of electrons at an energy level of 10-100 MeV is responsible for the observed X-ray light. (1 MeV represents one million electron volts.)

Although 10-100 MeV is energetic, this is about 1000 times less than the expected energy level of 100 TeV. Even more puzzling is the multi-TeV gamma-ray emission, which, although surely emanating from the 10-100 TeV wind electrons, seems to be produced differently to how it was thought before.

"The only fact that is crystal clear at the moment is that this is the pulsar system to watch if we want to understand pulsar winds," said Chernyakova.

"Never have we seen pulsar wind in such detail. We are continuing with theoretical models now. We have some good explanation of the radio-to-TeV-gamma-ray behaviour of this funny system, but it is still ‘under construction.’"

Monica Talevi | alfa
Further information:
http://www.esa.int/esaSC/SEMK6HMVGJE_index_0.html

More articles from Physics and Astronomy:

nachricht Unconventional superconductor may be used to create quantum computers of the future
19.02.2018 | Chalmers University of Technology

nachricht Hubble sees Neptune's mysterious shrinking storm
16.02.2018 | NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

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: In best circles: First integrated circuit from self-assembled polymer

For the first time, a team of researchers at the Max-Planck Institute (MPI) for Polymer Research in Mainz, Germany, has succeeded in making an integrated circuit (IC) from just a monolayer of a semiconducting polymer via a bottom-up, self-assembly approach.

In the self-assembly process, the semiconducting polymer arranges itself into an ordered monolayer in a transistor. The transistors are binary switches used...

Im Focus: Demonstration of a single molecule piezoelectric effect

Breakthrough provides a new concept of the design of molecular motors, sensors and electricity generators at nanoscale

Researchers from the Institute of Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry of the CAS (IOCB Prague), Institute of Physics of the CAS (IP CAS) and Palacký University...

Im Focus: Hybrid optics bring color imaging using ultrathin metalenses into focus

For photographers and scientists, lenses are lifesavers. They reflect and refract light, making possible the imaging systems that drive discovery through the microscope and preserve history through cameras.

But today's glass-based lenses are bulky and resist miniaturization. Next-generation technologies, such as ultrathin cameras or tiny microscopes, require...

Im Focus: Stem cell divisions in the adult brain seen for the first time

Scientists from the University of Zurich have succeeded for the first time in tracking individual stem cells and their neuronal progeny over months within the intact adult brain. This study sheds light on how new neurons are produced throughout life.

The generation of new nerve cells was once thought to taper off at the end of embryonic development. However, recent research has shown that the adult brain...

Im Focus: Interference as a new method for cooling quantum devices

Theoretical physicists propose to use negative interference to control heat flow in quantum devices. Study published in Physical Review Letters

Quantum computer parts are sensitive and need to be cooled to very low temperatures. Their tiny size makes them particularly susceptible to a temperature...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

2nd International Conference on High Temperature Shape Memory Alloys (HTSMAs)

15.02.2018 | Event News

Aachen DC Grid Summit 2018

13.02.2018 | Event News

How Global Climate Policy Can Learn from the Energy Transition

12.02.2018 | Event News

 
Latest News

Contacting the molecular world through graphene nanoribbons

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

When Proteins Shake Hands

19.02.2018 | Materials Sciences

Cells communicate in a dynamic code

19.02.2018 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>