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Strange Pulsar Discovered

Pulsars are thought to form when a massive star reaches the end of its life and explodes in a supernova. The remnants of these stars sometimes collapse into neutron stars, so-called because they are so dense that the protons and electrons that formed the star's atoms have been squashed into neutrons (if the original star was even more massive, it would collapse into a black hole).

Not only is the star's matter tightly-packed after all this squashing, but the star's magnetic field is compressed into a tiny space as well. Scientists think this powerful field accelerates charged particles around the star, causing them to emit radiation that is focused into a beam by the magnetic field lines.

As these neutron stars rotate, so too do their light beams. If a neutron star happens to be shooting out its jet in our direction, we call it a pulsar, because we see a pulse every time the rotating beam reaches us.

Usually, pulsars slow down in their rotation over time as they lose energy. When one attains a speed as fast as PSR J1903+0327, which rotates every 2.15 milliseconds, scientists think it has "recycled" itself by sucking up mass from a companion red dwarf. When this happens, scientists usually see a quickly spinning pulsar orbiting around a white dwarf (the end stage of a red giant) in a circular orbit (the red giant's tidal forces stabilize the pulsar's orbit into a circle).

"This new pulsar is quite a surprise," Champion said, referring to the new object's oblong orbit around a sun-like star.

The scientists speculate that the strange pulsar may have started out in a globular cluster, where stars are much closer to each other and interact more often than in the rest of the galaxy. In this case, it would have originally gone through the normal recycling process, but lost its aged red giant companion when a younger sun-like star came flying in and knocked it away

Another hypothesis is that the pulsar originated in a triple star system, but its main red giant companion was destroyed.

The team hopes further study of this unique object will help solve the mystery and teach us more about how pulsars form.

It's always the most unusual objects that advance our understanding the most in these cases-David Champion

Source: Space.Com




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