In the unusual galaxy ‘graveyard,’ astronomers at the University of Sydney found a novel type of neutron star. It is distinct from any of its stellar neighbors because it pulses.
Scientists led by the University of Sydney have discovered an unusual neutron star that emits radio signals and rotates very slowly, making one rotation every 76 seconds.
It is unique because it is located in the “neutron star graveyard,” where there shouldn’t be any pulsations. Using the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa, the MeerTRAP team made the discovery, and the find was reported in a paper published in Nature Astronomy.
A single pulse was the original detection of this star. To confirm the position of the multiple pulses, simultaneously consecutive images of the sky were taken, each lasting eight seconds, in order to verify their timing and length.
A neutron star is an extremely dense remnant of a supernova explosion. We know that there are about 3,000 neutron stars in our Galaxy. However, this discovery is different from anything seen before. According to the research group, it could be an ultra-long period magnetar – a star with an extremely strong magnetic field.
Magnetic fields of neutron stars are trillions of times greater than those of Earth, but in magnetars, the magnetic fields are another 1000 times more potent.
There are only about 1,000 known pulsars in the Galaxy, but there may be hundreds of millions of old neutron stars. Neutron stars have staggering pressures that may be similar to those at the time of the big bang, but these pressures cannot be replicated on Earth. A pulsar resembles a lighthouse in some ways. Lighthouses emit beams of light that sweep across the sky at night. Although the light is constantly shining, it is only visible when pointing directly at you.
Dr. Manisha Caleb, a researcher from the University of Sydney, said: “Amazingly, we only detect radio emission from this source for 0.5 percent of its rotation period. This means that it is fortunate that the radio beam intersected with the Earth.”
“It is therefore likely that there are many more of these very slowly spinning stars in the Galaxy, which has significant implications for understanding how neutron stars are born and age. Unfortunately, the majority of pulsar surveys do not search for periods this long, so we have no idea how many of these stars might exist,” Dr. Caleb added.
There appear to be at least seven different types of pulses in the newly discovered neutron star, and some of them occur at regular intervals. The odd, pulsating star was dubbed PSR J0901-4046. Researchers say that the source exhibits pulsar-like characteristics and magnetars and fast radio bursts, which are brief flashes of radio emission, making it even more unique.
“This is the beginning of a new class of neutron stars. How or whether it relates to other classes is yet to be explored. There are likely many more out there. We need only look!” Dr. Caleb said.
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