A single flash from the sky showed the way to a bizarre star that spins very slowly, making it difficult to determine whether it is a pulsar or another stellar object.
The object, known as PSR J0901-4046, “challenges our current understanding of the evolution of these systems” due to its slow 76-second pirouette and the fact that it emits radio waves, both of which are unusual for pulsars, researchers said in a study published (opens in a new tab) Monday (May 30) in Nature Astronomy.
Pulsars are rapidly rotating objects belonging to the family of neutron stars. They are ultra-dense, city-sized objects that are just a little more massive than our sun. They are believed to emerge from powerful supernova massive star explosions. But generally, pulsars rotate several times per second.
This makes PSR J0901-4046 and its slow pirouette rather odd, and unlike any of the other 3,000 pulsars found in our Milky Way galaxy. Newly discovered object may belong to ‘theorized class of ultra-long-period magnetars with extremely strong magnetic fields’, researchers say said (opens in a new tab) in a press release on Tuesday, May 31.
“It took an eagle’s eye to recognize it for something that was possibly a real source because it was so unusual,” said Ian Heywood, radio astronomer at Oxford University and research collaborator. , in the press release.
Researchers spotted the flash using the MeerKAT radio telescope in South Africa. It was first spotted through a program called ThunderKAT, which looks for radio transients, and then the researchers brought in expertise from the University of Manchester. MeerTRAP (opens in a new tab) (No more transients and pulsars).
Working together, the researchers were able to confirm the pulsar’s lightning period and estimate its position in the sky, the statement said.
Lead author Manisha Caleb, an astronomer at the University of Sydney, said the radio emission was only visible for 0.5% of the pulsar’s rotation period, making the detection “very coincidental”. she said. “The majority of pulsar surveys don’t look for such long time periods, so we have no idea how many of these sources there might be,” Caleb added in the statement.
The researchers noted that it is difficult to classify this object. While the radio waves suggest it’s a pulsar, the polarization of the pulses (as well as the way the signal fluctuates) gives more indication that it’s a pulsar. magnetaranother type of neutron star that has strong magnetic fields greatly affecting their local environments.
The star appears to pulsate in at least seven different ways, which could indicate changes in seismic activity inside the star, but the researchers aren’t sure what to make of what they’re seeing.
In addition, the 76-second slow rotation is more reminiscent of an ordinary white dwarf, which is the cooling core of a star the size of our sun that breaks away from its outer layers once it runs out of fuel for nuclear fusion. But scientists don’t see the right signal in the star’s spectrum to suggest it is indeed a white dwarf.
More data may be needed to better classify what they see, the researchers say. They don’t even know how long the radio emissions have been happening, because although the object is located in a well-studied vicinity, radio signals generally do not pick up this type of signal.
“So it’s likely that there are many more of these very slowly spinning sources in the galaxy, which has important implications for how neutron stars are born and age,” Caleb said.
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