Artists impression of millisecond pulsar and companion
The globular cluster NGC 6397
Combining Hubble Space Telescope images with radio observations has revealed a highly unusual system consisting of a fast spinning pulsar and a bloated red companion star. The existence of the system is something of a mystery - the best explanation so far is that we have our first view of a millisecond pulsar just after it has been `spun up` by its red companion star.
Although more than 90 specimens of the exotic species of fast-spinning `millisecond pulsars` are known today, no observations have yet been made to back up the theory of how they reached this state. A series of observations of the millisecond pulsar PSR J1740-5340 (spinning at 274 times per second) and its companion star from the ESA/NASA Hubble Space Telescope and the Parkes radio telescope seem to show the final stage of the pulsar acceleration process for the first time.
The generally favoured `recycling scenario` describing the creation of millisecond pulsars proposes that an old, slowly rotating neutron star begins to absorb matter from its elderly companion star, typically a red giant. The matter hits the surface of the neutron star and transfers energy to make it rotate faster. The process ends when the pulsar has been revitalised and is rotating at hundreds of times per second (hence a millisecond pulsar), and its companion almost emptied of matter and turned into a white dwarf.
Erica Rolfe | alphagalileo
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